PARIS, France -- French hope Caroline Garcia staged a stirring comeback to thrill the homeland fans on Court Philippe Chatrier on Friday, overcoming No.16 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium 1-6, 6-4, 7-5, to move into the round of 16 at Roland Garros for the third time in her career.
"For sure, it was a great feeling out there, and especially the match was a big fight in the second and third sets," Garcia said in her post-match press conference.
World No.45 Garcia had not dropped a set in her two previous encounters with Mertens, but saw the opening set slip away from her under the closed roof on a rainy afternoon. Nevertheless, the Frenchwoman charged back from that deficit to grit out two tense sets and maintain her undefeated record against the Belgian after two hours and 15 minutes of gripping action.
"First set, [Mertens] was really playing good tennis, really playing every shot," said Garcia. "You can feel she was like fully confident and I was not really in the match."
"I wanted to fight and stay positive and try on every single point to do something better," the Frenchwoman continued. "One point at a time it got better and better. It got good tennis I think from both, and I was more aggressive with my forehand. I started to serve very well."
Former World No.4 Garcia had posted her best result at any Grand Slam event when she reached the quarterfinals here on home soil in 2017, and is now one win away from matching that feat after using aggressive play to fend off the Belgian's fight.
The French player had 38 winners, including six aces, to Mertens' winner total of 24. Garcia also charged to the net increasingly as the match wore on, with 23 of her 28 approaches coming in the final two sets; it paid off for the unseeded player, as she won 18 points in the forecourt overall.
Garcia will have to upset No.3 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine to return to the final eight of her home major, after Svitolina got past No.27 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova earlier on Friday. Garcia will go into that meeting confidently, having won three of their four previous meetings, although she and Svitolina have not faced off since 2018.
"I think I played some good tennis so far in this French Open," said Garcia. "It's not always a great scenario, but I fight until the end, and step by step. Now I'm in the second week, and I had some good three matches. So I'm curious to see how it goes against Elina Svitolina, who is a very solid player and in full confidence now."
Mertens pulled off an astonishing opening set, where she won 71 percent of points on her first serve and an even better 78 percent of second-service points. The Belgian earned a break in the first game after consecutive backhand miscues by Garcia, and used that momentum to zip to a 4-0 lead, holding in that game with stirring backhand groundstrokes as well as a deft lob winner.
Garcia got on the board with a forehand winner to hold for 4-1, but that would be the extent of her game-scoring in the first frame. At 5-1, Mertens earned a third break by forcing an error long on her first set point, wrapping up the one-set lead without ever facing a break point.
In the second set, though, Garcia staged her fightback. The Frenchwoman clinched her first break points of the day at 1-1, and notched a break with a winning dropshot to take the first lead of the set. Garcia’s aggressive play started to click into gear as fierce forehands and solid serving led to a consolidation for 3-1.
Caro poursuit son envol ✈️@CaroGarcia élimine la 16e tête de série Elise Mertens 1-6 6-4 7-5. Elle est la première 🇫🇷 à valider son billet pour les huitièmes de finale de #RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/89GRyxusap— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) October 2, 2020
Mertens fired back in the middle of the set, slamming an ace to hold for 4-3, then reclaiming parity at 4-4 with exceptional variety of shot. However, two games from the win, the Belgian dropped serve again, as Garcia fired strong returns to set up double break point, then converted the first of the pair with a successful drop volley.
Buoyed by the excited fans under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier, Garcia kept powering through the court with fabulous forehands as she charged to triple set point at 5-4. Garcia only needed the first chance to tie up the affair, completing the second set in her favor with another drop volley winner.
Garcia continued her momentum to start the decider, after a netted error by Mertens gave the Frenchwoman a break in the very first game. Mertens had no trouble holding in her next four service games, but the Belgian was unable to recoup the break all the way through 5-4.
Serving for the match in that game, though, Garcia could not convert any of three match points, as Mertens played her best on those chances, dominating with her forehand. After a backhand winner down the line brought Mertens to the second deuce of that game, Garcia ended the next two points with forehand errors, and the match was suddenly dead even again at 5-5.
Garcia, though, struck back right away, blasting a forehand passing winner in the subsequent game to earn two more break points, then converting her opportunity by charging into the forecourt to put away a backhand winner.
With a second chance to serve for the match, Garcia faced down another break point after a long volley miscue, but saved it with a bold backhand which landed on the baseline to force an error from Mertens. Two more match points came and went before Garcia earned her sixth with an ace, and that time did the trick after a rally backhand by Mertens flew long.