PARIS, France - The final round of Roland Garros qualifying was highlighted by significant national milestones as both Mexico's Renata Zarazua and Egypt's Mayar Sherif made history for their countries; while others to successfully battle into the main draw included both teenagers Marta Kostyuk, Clara Tauson and Kamilla Rakhimova, and familiar faces Sara Errani and Monica Niculescu.
Zarazua's all-Latin American clash with Daniela Seguel was sure to break a national drought one way or the other: either Zarazua would be the first Mexican woman to make a Grand Slam main draw since two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist Angelica Gavaldon's final appearance in Melbourne in 2000; or Seguel would become the first Chilean woman to compete at this level since Germaine Ohaco qualified for the 1982 US Open.
Seguel had already defeated Zarazua this year in the semifinals of the Vero Beach ITF W25 in January, but the latter has been on a hot streak ever since: the 22-year-old thrilled her home crowd in Acapulco in February, becoming the first Mexican WTA semifinalist since 1993 via wins over Sloane Stephens and Tamara Zidansek, and is now 8-3 since the resumption.
Today, Zarazua would display greater creativity and fortitude to hold Seguel at bay. Her dropshot would be a key weapon throughout; when, after a lengthy rain delay, Seguel found the range on her forehand to take a 3-1 lead in the second set, Zarazua would grind her way through eight deuces over the next two games to reel her back in, including coming up with a breathtaking combination of a reflex lob and two smashes to save a break point in the sixth game. From there, Seguel's forehand consistency faltered as the World No.178 swept towards the finishing line, sealing the win with a smart wrong-footing forehand winner. In the main draw, Zarazua will face 17-year-old wildcard Elsa Jacquemot in the first round.
If Zarazua, just the fourth Mexican woman to make the main draw of a major in the Open Era (following Gavaldon, Elena Subirats and Patricia Montano), delivered a rare national achievement, Sherif's feat was even more historic. Last month, the 24-year-old Pepperdine University alumna became just the second Egyptian to compete in a WTA main draw ever when she qualified for Prague (following Marwa Elwany, a wildcard in Cairo in 1999) - and today, she broke even newer ground, defeating Giulia Gatto-Monticone 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 19 minutes to seal her place as the first female player from her country in the main draw of a major. The last country to debut on the women's Grand Slam stage was Liechtenstein, after Kathinka Von Deichmann qualified for the 2018 US Open.
Mayar Sherif becomes the first woman representing Egypt to feature in a Grand Slam main draw.— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 25, 2020
Defeats Giulia Gatto-Monticone 6-1, 6-3 in the final round of Roland Garros qualifying.
[📸: © Philippe Montigny/FFT] pic.twitter.com/leYhrDdmXo
New name, new country, but Sherif is no mere novelty. Indeed, the World No.172 - who began 2019 unranked but had soared to World No.212 by the end of the year after racking up six ITF Pro Circuit titles - delivered one of the most dominant performances of qualifying this week, dropping just 14 games across three matches. Against Gatto-Monticone, Sherif's quality was fully on show: heavy forehands that she could send to every corner of the court were leavened by feathery dropshots and a never-say-die attitude, particularly evident in the extraordinary 14-minute, 10-deuce break of the Italian's serve with which the second set opened. Sherif will have a chance to test out her game against one of the very best in the main draw, where she will be pitted against No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova in the first round.
Also in the realm of extraordinary was the rollercoaster between two of the more familiar faces in the draw as No.16 seed Monica Niculescu defeated former World No.2 Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and six minutes. The Romanian sped through the opening 10 points en route to a dominant 25-minute first set, and even the rain break at that point did not seem to have helped Zvonareva, whose woes continued on resumption as she went down a break in the second.
But trailing 0-6, 0-2, the Russian hit her stride at last to reel off 20 of the next 24 points and six of the next seven games to level the match - only to get sucked into Niculescu's web of wiles in the decider again as the 33-year-old, slicing and scrambling with no let-up, advanced to a 5-1, 40-0 lead. Zvonareva threatened another twist in the tale as she saved all three match points, broke the former World No.28 with a return that she took virtually on the service line, and took three games in a row with a point for a fourth - but Niculescu staved off the fightback just in time, concluding what had been a zany ride to say the least with an underarm serve setting up a backhand pass on her fourth match point. An intriguing stylistic contrast looms in the first round of the main draw, where Niculescu will square off against Danielle Collins.
Whiplash scorelines weren't just for the veterans: 18-year-old No.2 seed Marta Kostyuk also rode extreme twists and turns before defeating No.22 seed Kurumi Nara 6-0, 1-6, 6-2, at just one hour and 16 minutes in length an unusually short three-setter. At times, Kostyuk - fresh off stretching eventual champion Naomi Osaka to three sets in the third round of the US Open - was untouchable, such as in a 19-minute opening set that saw the Ukrainian strike 12 winners to three unforced errors and concede only five points.
Former World No.32 Nara, switching up her strategy, effected a turnaround out of nowhere thanks to taking the forecourt away from Kostyuk, who remained on edge even as she took a 3-0 lead in the deciding set. Indeed, Nara would have a point to get the match back on serve in the seventh game - but it was the teenager who found an extra gear when she needed it to sweep imperiously through the next seven points, powering away overheads and finishing with a glorious backhand winner to seal a spot in the main draw against another Japanese player, Strasbourg semifinalist Nao Hibino.
Kostyuk, the 2017 Australian Open junior champion, will be joined in her first Roland Garros main draw by the 2019 Australian Open junior champion, 17-year-old Clara Tauson. The Dane saved six set points in the first set before pulling away from Ivana Jorovic 7-6(5), 6-4 to seal her maiden Grand Slam spot. Rounding out the teenage qualifiers was another debutante, 19-year-old Kamilla Rakhimova, who backed up her second-round upset of No.1 seed Ann Li with a 7-5, 6-3 defeat of Natalija Kostic.
While two-time Grand Slam runner-up Zvonareva was unable to make it through, 2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani successfully navigated the qualifying rounds with a 6-3, 7-5 triumph over in-form Istanbul semifinalist Tereza Martincova. The Czech No.4 seed saved two match points as Errani served for the win at 5-4 in the second set, but two games later the 33-year-old Italian broke again to wrap up a week in which she did not drop a set.
Elsewhere, No.8 seed Nadia Podoroska returned to a Grand Slam main draw for the first time since the 2016 US Open with a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of 18-year-old No.20 seed Wang Xinyu. The Argentinian's comeback from the wrist injury that derailed her career in 2017 has gathered serious pace this year, with her results this week extending her win-loss record to 38-6; against Wang, Podoroska was sharp, eager to take every ball on and looked every inch like a Top 100 player in waiting.
Rounding out the qualifiers are No.17 seed Barbara Haas, who claimed a 6-4, 7-5 win over Elena-Gabriela Ruse; Martina Trevisan, who routed No.9 seed Astra Sharma 6-1, 6-1; Irina Bara, who sealed her first Grand Slam main draw with a 6-2, 7-6(4) victory over Richel Hogenkamp; and 34-year-old former World No.19 Varvara Lepchenko, who moved into her 44th major main draw by beating former US Open junior champion Dalma Galfi 6-3, 6-4.