PARIS, France - No.5 seed Kiki Bertens had to come back from the brink as she turned around a 2-5 deficit in the opening set against Sara Errani - but that was only the beginning as she needed more than three hours to defeat the former finalist and reach the third round at Roland Garros.
The pair combined for 24 breaks of serve across three sets - including a stretch of ten in a row in the decider as they played out the marathon final set. Bertens had to save match point late in the third as Errani sought to claim her sixth consecutive win over her opponent.
But it was Bertens who came away victorious in extra innings, 7-6(5), 3-6, 9-7, firing 61 winners past the Italian, who recorded 14 double faults. The Dutch player collapsed to the clay as she celebrated the victory after a grueling three hours and 11 minutes.
“It was a roller coaster, to be honest,” Bertens told press afterwards. “Physically I didn't feel great. I was cramping, I think everyone could really see that. But it was weird because I didn't feel really tired but I was sweating a lot, I was cold. So I don't know what it really was, maybe a little bit of tension of course also in the body.
“I kept on fighting and I still don't know how I did manage to get the win.”
The 2012 finalist Errani navigated the qualifying rounds without dropping a set, and dismissed the reigning Olympic champion Monica Puig in a 6-2, 6-1 rout to book her sixth career meeting with Bertens.
She made a dream start to open with a double break against Bertens, starting the match with a 3-0 lead. The Italian covered the court showing her clay court prowess, racing ahead to 5-2. But Errani was struggling with her serve throughout as problems with her ball toss forced her to resort to the underhand second serve, to little success.
That gave Bertens her opening as she fought her way back, breaking Errani as she served for twice for the first set to level the score at 5-5. After the pair traded breaks for the eighth time in set - Errani serving for it again at 6-5 - Bertens sent them into a tiebreaker, edging ahead to win it 7-6(5) after 62 minutes.
“It was tough because of course you want to play more aggressive, but it's really tough for me to do this on this court at this point,” Bertens assessed. “So then you're a little bit like struggling, like what should I do and then she's reading the game of course really well.
“So there was a lot of drop shots, a lot of running, a lot of breaks of serve, because I also felt like sometimes when I really hit a good shot she only came with a better response. So it was really trying to find a solution out there.”
But it wouldn’t get any easier as the battle continued to unfold, and Errani put in a titanic effort in the second set to defend her serve and put Bertens under pressure. The pair were deadlocked after four consecutive breaks, 2-2, but Errani fought off two break points to avoid making it five in a row, taking the lead at 3-2.
Errani saved eight break points in total during the second set as Bertens continued to attack her vulnerable deliveries, but couldn’t break through as Errani used her court coverage and variety to chase down returns. She sent them into a third set with another break of her own to take it 6-3.
Bertens visibly struggled physically as the match crept past the two-hour mark, and the final set became a war of attrition between the No.5 seed and former finalist. Neither player was able to hold serve after 2-2 as they dealt ten consecutive breaks of serve, and without a final set tiebreaker at Roland Garros the match played on.
Errani had the scoreboard advantage, and she kept Bertens under pressure as she served for the match three times - but she was broken all three times as Bertens showed her grit three hours into the contest. Her opponent kept her on the run with a variety of drop shots and underhand serves, and Bertens looked to be running on fumes as she earned the crucial service hold at 8-7.
Errani saved one of three match points with an underhand serve - her first successful one of the match - to bring them to deuce, but it was too late for a turnaround as Bertens broke one final time, before sinking to the clay in relief and agony after a grueling three hours and 11 minutes.
“At the end like once I fell down on the floor and really all the excitement was gone I started like total body cramp, so, yeah, that was not a great feeling,” Bertens described. “But a good thing I think it was for me that all the time the cramps were coming and going again, it was not like that it was staying in the body.
“I felt like I had to stay calm and not be pumped too much, because all the time when I did the fist pump like I could not [close my] fingers any more like normal.”
Bertens awaits the winner between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Katerina Siniakova in the third round.