PARIS, France - The second round of Roland Garros saw No.3 seed Elina Svitolina extend her winning streak to six, but not being given a fright by groundbreaking qualifier and birthday girl Renata Zarazua en route to a 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 victory in one hour and 35 minutes.
The Ukrainian has now reached the third round at her past seven majors and in Paris for the last six years, but today needed to recover from a mid-match stretch in which she lost eight out of 10 games, including a stunning bagel set, against a player who had never previously defeated anyone ranked inside the Top 30. But Zarazua, the first Mexican woman to play and win a match in a Grand Slam since Angelica Gavaldon at the 2000 Australian Open, has been surging this year, collecting wins over Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard as well as a maiden WTA semifinal run at home in Acapulco, and once she found her groove was able to show Court Philippe-Chatrier exactly why.
Svitolina was among those impressed, both in terms of Zarazua's game and accomplishment. "She is a very solid player," the two-time major semifinalist told the press afterwards. "She moves the ball really good. For her small height, I think she moves quite good... I think in the end she should be really proud of her performance today. She is from a country with not lots of support and not so many players who achieved really big things."
This is something Svitolina herself can identify with, having been the first Ukrainian woman to rack up a host of achievements, although she pointed out that on the ATP side she had been able to follow in the footsteps of 1999 Roland Garros runner-up Andrei Medvedev. "I think it gives you more pride. It gives you more confidence in yourself," she said. "You should be really proud of your effort that you are the first one to reach the high results, better ever than was reached from your country."
Playing on a Grand Slam show court for the first time in her career, Zarazua made a nervy start. Racking up 11 unforced errors to Svitolina's one over the first four games, Zarazua dropped serve twice in short order, failing to reach game point as she found herself in a 0-4 hole.
But the Mexican No.1, who was bidding to become the first woman from her country to reach the third round at Roland Garros since Elena Subirats' quarterfinal run in 1968, settled at that point - and began to showcase some superb claycourt tennis. Zarazua's backhand was her money shot off the ground, particularly when she was able to carve out space in the open court with rock-solid crosscourt strikes, but she would also conjure up a series of fine dropshots: one would enable her to break Svitolina back once, and another, paired with a finely judged lob and volley putaway, helped to reduce the deficit to 3-4.
It was too late to save the opening set, with excellent Svitolina serving and defence seeing the two-time quarterfinalist over the line, but Zarazua would take her momentum into the second set in remarkable fashion. Svitolina's tight first-set ship would begin to leak at an alarming rate, her unforced error tally rising from six to 16, and the World No.178 was unhesitating in taking advantage.
Milestones at @rolandgarros:— wta (@WTA) September 25, 2020
🇲🇽 @RenataZarazuaOf becomes the first Mexican woman in a Grand Slam main draw in 20 years
🇪🇬 Mayar Sherif becomes the first-ever Egyptian woman to feature in a Grand Slam main draw
Qualifiers update --> https://t.co/4hMDtgxgUv pic.twitter.com/6iZAbDb00U
Up 2-0, Zarazua turned the screws with a series of exquisite dropshots, at one point winning four out of a stretch of eight points with them. Even more impressively, the Mexican No.1 - who turns 23 today - fought through a four-deuce tussle to gain the triple break for 5-0, the kind of longueur that has so often turned sets and matches around for the tenacious Svitolina in the past.
"Maybe I was dreaming today," mused Svitolina afterwards. "Honestly, I'm still questioning myself because it was a bit of a drop. I don't remember much of the second set... It's very tough to say. I was going maybe for too much. In the end when I was playing really good, I was playing aggressive, I was going for my shots. Maybe a few mistakes here and there. Then in the end she was quite solid from the baseline, took her chances, didn't miss so much."
Having closed out the bagel with by chasing down a Svitolina dropshot to dink a delicate pass past the World No.5, Zarazua continued to threaten as the decider got under way. Another dropshot of her own paved the way to double break point for a seventh straight game - but finally, the Acapulco semifinalist went to the well too often. Chasing it down for a perfect counterdrop, Svitolina erased the danger quickly, holding with a forehand winner down the line and then taking advantage of the momentum shift to break Zarazua in the next game.
The underdog had one last stand left in her, pegging Svitolina back to 2-2 with yet another dropshot - but by this point, the 2018 WTA Finals champion had found her rhythm off the ground again. Reducing her unforced error count to nine in the third set as Zarazua's crept up to 10, Svitolina displayed the smart, contained tennis that has made her a Top 10 mainstay for the past few years as she reeled off 16 of the last 20 points, dropping just one in each of the last four games and finishing with a booming forehand return.