PARIS, France – No.3 seed Elina Svitolina moved safely through to the second round of the French Open, but not before being given a good workout by Varvara Gracheva in a 97-minute 7-6, 6-4 success.
Svitolina arrived in Paris, where she has twice been a quarterfinalist, off the back of winning Strasbourg, and extended an impressive statistic that has seen her lose only one Grand Slam first-round match since 2015.
Gracheva, though, gave a strong account of herself in just a second major main-draw appearance, fighting back from a deficit three times in the first set to force a tiebreak, before leading for much of the second, only for the greater experience and consistency of her Ukrainian opponent to prevail.
“It wasn’t easy. I was leading in the first set and Varvara really stepped up her game. She started hitting the ball much better and made me work for the first set,” Svitolina said.
“She got the momentum going in the second set. For me, it was important for me to play every point and not lose my focus. I found a way and played much better.”
There seemed little prospect of the opening set reaching a tiebreak as Svitolina opened up positively, moving the ball around the court well, showing good touch and establishing a 4-0 lead.
It was at this point that WTA World No.89 Gracheva, who improbably came back to beat Kristina Mladenovic from four match points down at the US Open, once again demonstrated her never-say-die attitude.
Aided by a love service game to get on the board, she began to find her fluency and once on the front foot was able to match the first Top 10 opponent she has played in her career.
Now it was her turn to boss the rallies and show a clinical attitude at net, gaining one of the breaks back then sending a fine backhand down the line to restore parity to the match.
Svitolina responded with a break, but when tasked with serving the set out she was unable to convert. The players then traded another couple of breaks before the set concluded in the tiebreak.
There had been little predictable about the opening 12 games, but the tiebreak promised to be a tight one. Instead, Gracheva missed an easy volley to give her an early minibreak and saw the set slip away from her 7-2.
The run of breaks continued into the second frame, with Gracheva this time taking the advantage as she put an end to a run of eight successive breaks by holding to go 3-1 up.
The seventh game, however, proved a turning point. Gracheva established a 0-40 lead but from there was unable to convert any of five break points and thereafter lost some of the positivity that had allowed her to go blow for blow with the WTA World No.5.
Sensing blood, Svitolina was able to step up her own aggression and sealed a break to level the match, which she swiftly followed up with the only love service game she achieved on a cool afternoon.
The match had shifted definitively into her favor, and though Gracheva bravely fended off two match points after falling 0-40 down, she was unable to resist a third.
Svitolina, then, moves into the second round, where she will face qualifier Renata Zarazua, who raced past home wildcard Elsa Jacquemot, 6-1, 6-1 in 65 minutes.