PARIS, France - No.4 seed Sofia Kenin made serene progress into the fourth round of Roland Garros for the second year in a row with a 6-2, 6-0 defeat of qualifier Irina Bara in one hour and 12 minutes.
The pair had met once before, in the first round of the 2018 ITF $80K event in Dothan, with Kenin taking a hard-fought tussle 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 - a contest she immediately recalled after her second-round defeat of Ana Bogdan when asked to look ahead to today's rematch. Today, both venue and scoreline were markedly different as the American bounced back from an opening break deficit to rattle off 12 consecutive games for a hidden double bagel and seal her first straight-sets victory of the tournament.
"I kind of was a little bit tired of those dramatic matches," Kenin laughed afterwards. "I just wanted to try to start off well and finish off really well."
Having been taken to three sets by both Liudmila Samsonova and Bogdan in her first two rounds, a slow start from Kenin threatened a similar arc to today's match. The 21-year-old committed six unforced errors, including two netted dropshots, and a double fault within seven points to concede the opening two games all too easily.
But Kenin stuck to her guns and her aggressive strategy, and soon found her range - including on the dropshots, a pair of which would win her the immediate break back. That proved to be the start of a run of 12 games in which the Australian Open champion relentlessly out-manoeuvred her opponent, ultimately tallying 34 winners to 25 unforced errors and saving 10 out of 11 break points against her.
Bara's stellar defensive skills have garnered the Romanian a career-best week at this level, putting together a third-round run via defeats of Donna Vekic and Alison Van Uytvanck after qualifying for her Grand Slam main draw debut, but she would find herself overmatched all too often in her first encounter with a Top 10 opponent. As the set slipped from her grasp, the World No.142's half-chances were stymied by an increasingly focused Kenin, who snatched a 5-2 double-break lead from triple game point down with another perfectly weighted dropshot.
A game later, Bara would capture the best point of the match, scampering around the court to retrieve everything Kenin threw at her before lofting a lob over the World No.6's head, but could not take advantage of three break points, sending a backhand long down set point.
Bara continued to battle valiantly as she sought to regain a foothold in the match at the start of the second set, which opened with a brace of longueurs as the pair wrestled for control over eight deuces in the first two games. But despite Bara demonstrating more aggression off the ground and better anticipation of the Kenin dropshot, the higher-ranked player was reliably able to raise her level and find her best tennis whenever she was in danger of actually losing the game.
Raining down winners at will, Kenin eventually sealed the opening break with a backhand crosscourt, saved a break-back point with a one-two punch and emerged from the two multi-deuce tussles by slamming a forehand crosscourt.
From there, an utterly dominant passage of play saw Kenin race through 15 of the next 19 points to arrive at 5-0 and double match point - only to get embroiled in another six-deuce mini-marathon after squandering both. Bara, striking her forehand with last-ditch authority, would also take advantage of Kenin's dropshots oscillating between perfectly judged and too-well signposted, and would hold five break-back points to avoid the bagel set.
But just as she had all match, Kenin's determination when faced with the prospect of conceding a game would result in clutch tennis, and eventually she would seal victory with consecutive one-two punches off each wing to set up a fourth-round date with Palermo champion Fiona Ferro, who extended her winning streak to eight with a 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-0 victory over Istanbul champion Patricia Maria Tig to reach the second week of a major for the first time.
"Towards the end I just started getting a little bit careless," Kenin admitted. "I started doing dropshots towards the end, just for fun. I was like, Why not? Let's just do dropshots. But then she obviously picked up her game. But it's nice getting 12 games in a row, I have to admit."
On the prospect of facing Ferro, Kenin immediately recalled a prior meeting. "Fiona, I played her a few years ago in Charleston - that's first round in qualifying," she said. "If I'm correct, I won like 7-5, 6-1 or 6-2, I don't remember." (Kenin's recall was indeed correct: the score was 7-5, 6-2.)
"It was a tough match," Kenin continued. "She's obviously a good clay-court player - she's got a big forehand, big serve, she's got great touch. She had a really good win a few days ago [over Elena] Rybakina and of course she's using the crowd to help her, so I'll just have to watch after this and then I'll come up with a plan."