PARIS, France - Former Top 30 player Anna Karolina Schmiedlova's resurgence continued at the French Open on Wednesday as the Slovak dispatched No.10 seed Victoria Azarenka in straight sets to reach the third round, 6-2, 6-2.
The 26-year-old arrived in Paris on a 13-match losing streak in Grand Slam main draws dating back over five years, but earned a spot in the round of 32 at a major for the third time in her career, and second time in Paris.
"I'm extremely happy because it's my favorite Grand Slam and favorite tournament of the year. I always play good here. I had many chances in last couple of years. I had match points or really close matches. I always play good here, just didn't close it," Schmiedlova said after the victory.
"I always thought that one year it has to come. I'm happy that this year I am in the third round. I'm extremely happy. Especially when I won against such great players, I have big respect for both of them. I never played against Vika before. I watch her many times in the TV, even when I was not on the tour. When I was younger, I watched many of her matches.
"I think she's great player. She played really well in US Open. I was little bit scared before the match. But I started well, and I'm really happy how I managed to play all match."
Racking up 36 unforced errors over the course of one hour and 42 minutes, Azarenka lost serve in the first game of the match and hardly led again from there - unable to string together momentum for an extended period over the course of the contest.
"The lesson I need to learn is that sometimes when things don't work for me, the way I was playing today was just not the right time, was to be willing to adjust a little bit more and not think kind of in the end of the match to finally start changing your kind of my game," Azarenka said in defeat.
"I felt like I was trying a lot, trying different things, but today things were not working. I felt like nothing really was working, but I still had to find a way to win, and I didn't."
Steady from the baseline as Azarenka proved erratic, the current World No.186 - entered in Paris on a Special Ranking after missing the second half of 2019 with a knee injury - never lost serve in turn, and broke the former World No.1 four times.
"I think for me it's very important to move well and to don't do a lot of unforced errors, just to put everything in, run a lot," Schmiedlova assessed. "That's my game, but I also need to play a little bit more aggressive, brave in the difficult moments.
"That was very difficult for me before because I was playing too defensive. Now I'm trying to play a little bit more offensive. I'm glad that it worked today."
In the third game of the second set, Schmiedlova had an injury scare when she slipped to her knees at the back of the court, needing a medical timeout and a bandage to cover some scrapes, but proved none the worse for wear coming out of the incident.
After Azarenka held serve on resumption, the Slovak saved two break points in the ensuing game to level at 2-2, and never looked back from there.
"Definitely, it was stressful moment. I was little bit in shock because it was kind of scary. I think it was really hard. I sometimes fell on that knee, it's the knee I had surgery on, so it's never easy. I started to think about it," she said.
"When I have the adrenaline and everything, I wanted to fight and win, then I didn't feel it. I hope I won't feel any pain tomorrow."
Schmiedlova last reached the third round in Paris in 2014 and matched the feat at the 2015 US Open, where a third-round loss to Petra Kvitova kicked off her inauspicious run at the sport's four majors.
Opportunity now knocks for the Slovak in her next match, as she will face off against Argentinian qualifier and World No.131 Nadia Podoroska for a spot in the round of 16.
Podoroska, the gold medalist at the Pan American Games last summer, has continued her stellar rise which began at the start of this season post-hiatus, and defeated No.23 seed Yulia Putintseva, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, to advance to the third round in her second-ever Grand Slam main draw.
"I think I've changed a lot. I am much more experienced. Before it was little bit easier because I had nothing to lose. I was really young. I didn't know a lot about tennis or how it works. I was just playing, felt no pressure or anything. I was playing very well before," Schmiedlova added.
"Right now I had so much more experiences. I played so many smaller tournaments, bigger tournaments all around the world. I lost really tough matches. I had knee surgery. Was really difficult years. I think I did everything I could to be back here. I'm very happy that it came, especially this year.
"I don't remember playing against [Podoroska], but I know her little bit. She's really good clay player. It will be very different than matches before. These two matches I had nothing to lose. I played big court. I was doing my best.
"Now I just need to be relaxed and play my game, and we'll see how it goes. She has to play really well here because she's in third round. It definitely won't be easy at all. She's a really good player. I will fight and I will do my best, but I don't want to feel any pressure at all."