LYON, France - No.2 seed Kristina Mladenovic recovered from a nightmare first set and a break deficit in the third to triumph over wildcard Chloe Paquet 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 in an oscillating all-French first-round derby at the Open 6ème Sens - Métropole de Lyon.
Mladenovic extended her record against fellow Frenchwomen to eight victories in the past nine such contests, and 12 in the past 15 stretching back to 2012 - but she would need to survive a rollercoaster two hours and 12 minutes of epic deuce games, momentum that did not so much shift as swerve wildly around like a car on black ice, and service woes that saw the World No.42 tally 14 double faults by the end of the match.
Both players would conjure up brilliant shotmaking at times - but this was counterbalanced by a plethora of errors as well, resulting in a contest that went down to the wire and was too close to call until the very last shot.
"It was definitely not an easy match to face a countrywoman and also a friend, even though I don't know as much about her in the tennis - like, how she plays," Mladenovic said after the match.
"It's never easy to start a tournament, and we never played each other before, so it wasn't easy. It was very far from being perfect today, but I'm just pleased with how I stayed calm and composed and how I fought through to find solutions to get the win today."
Perhaps surprisingly, it was the lower-ranked Paquet who began more confidently. Bidding for her fifth career Top 50 win, and fourth in the past year, the 25-year-old slammed down-the-line winners off each wing to capture the first two games, and thereafter dominated an opening act in which Mladenovic remained all at sea.
Strangely enough - though far from the only oddity about this match - the only game Paquet would lose in the first set was a titanic mid-set 10-deuce tussle when, up 4-0, Mladenovic would garner one of the breaks back. But far from this marathon being a turning point, normal service resumed immediately - which for Mladenovic today meant a surfeit of double faults.
Despite coming up with an ace and a scorching forehand winner for 30-30, consecutive double faults at that point would bring her first-set total to seven; by contrast, solid serving from Paquet saw the World No.166 close out a 6-1 set with the minimum of fuss.
Greater lethality off the ground and an improvement of sorts on serve would see Mladenovic reverse the momentum of the match in the second set. Though still afflicted by double faults - she would commit at least one in eight of her first nine service games today - the 26-year-old got on the front foot when Paquet caught the contagion in the second game, coughing up two of her own to fall behind a break. Mladenovic, setting up and executing familiar unplayable forehand patterns, needed no further invitation to take control.
Riding out the vagaries of her serve to retain the lead, the former World No.10 stepped in to crush a series of groundstrokes and break Paquet once more to level the match at a set all.
After two one-sided sets of tennis, the decider would naturally be poised on a knife edge for most of its duration. A nervy start from both players saw it open with three consecutive breaks of serve, with Mladenovic's double fault tally hitting its final total of 14 and Paquet struggling to execute putaways when on the front foot.
Though the Strasbourg semifinalist would emerge from this passage of play with a 3-1 lead and a spectacular highlights reel pass, she was far from safe from a Mladenovic who was equally capable of producing scorching winners as hitting herself out of entire games.
The higher-ranked Frenchwoman accordingly hit back in the sixth game as Paquet's forehand went awry, leveling the score at 3-3 as she found a brilliant backhand angle on return.
"I think tennis is a very complete game. It's an every day process. We all have our ups and down, when not everything is working the way that we'd like it to," Mladenovic continued.
"Today, I had some issues with my rhythm on the serve, but I was very happy with how I managed mentally. I stayed composed, looking for all the things in my game to find solutions and work out the point differently.
"I battled out there and gave myself a chance to come back for one more match."
In a throwback to the first set, the decider would feature a mid-set marathon at this point as Mladenovic battled through six deuces, staving off three break points, to take a 4-3 lead. At this point, it was the two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist who was seizing the reins of the match with bolder play: swashbuckling forecourt work saved two of those break points, one with a fizzing drive volley and the other with a delicate angle, and Mladenovic eventually emerged with the hold after hammering an inside-in forehand beyond Paquet's control.
Creating her own luck, consecutive forehand winners would find Mladenovic carving out a break point to move up 5-3 in the next game - which a dead net cord gifted to her.
Despite these events, the route to the finishing line still had a twist in it as the 2017 St. Petersburg champion relapsed into error as she failed to serve out the match - but the set would end as it had begun, with three straight breaks, as Mladenovic held firm to slam another pair of consecutive forehand winners to capture the Paquet serve for the sixth time.
Up next for Mladenovic in the second round will be former World No.45 Anna-Lena Friedsam, who beat Russian qualifier Anastasiya Komardina in first-round action on Monday, 6-2, 6-2.