PARIS, France - A fracas of finesse in the third round of Roland Garros saw Laura Siegemund upset No.13 seed Petra Martic 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-0 in two hours and 23 minutes to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Previously, the German had been one of just two active Premier-level winners without a fourth-round appearance at a major to their name - the other being 2019 San Jose champion Zheng Saisai. Siegemund's 2017 Stuttgart title, the peak of her career to date in which she knocked off three consecutive Top 10 players en route to a triumph on home soil, had been followed by disaster just as she had seemed poised to make noise on the biggest stages in tennis: four weeks later, a horrific knee injury in Nurnberg would sideline the University of Hagen graduate for 10 months, and she had yet to regain similar heights.
Recently though, Siegemund has shown signs of rejuvenation - on the doubles court. The 32-year-old's performance to lift the US Open doubles trophy alongside Vera Zvonareva last month was little short of phenomenal, and she has carried it over into the singles court in Paris, saving seven set points en route to a remarkable first-round comeback over Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-1 and riding a second-round rollercoaster to best compatriot Julia Goerges 1-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Today, Siegemund would bounce back from a first-set double-fault affliction to race home in a bagel decider that showcased every aspect of her all-court game in full flow - not least the dropshot, which garnered her a significant proportion of her 41 winners today. A change in tactics would also see her reduce her error count from 23 in the first set to eight over the next two combined - which also saw her concede just four points behind her delivery as her serving reached impregnable levels.
"It was very tactical match. She's a very specific player. I haven't played her in a long time. I don't know if I played her before, so I was kind of looking what happens. Of course, I had an idea, but I felt like we were both really trying to play tactically," Siegemund said after the match.
"I had my chances. I had a really good start in the first set. I feel I should have done much more out of that set. I kind of left some, you know, chances there also to not make the 3-All, you know, but to go further ahead.
"And then in the end it was a good match I think. You can lose that first set in the tiebreaker, was close then, but I felt like, that was a bit unnecessary. It happens. I tried to stay composed and had some problems with serving at the end of the second set, so was focusing on fixing that. I knew I had to find solutions for returning better. You know, I had better ideas in the second set and was able to continue that throughout the third also."
The opening stages of the contest saw some of its tightest tussles on the Siegemund serve, though, as both players battled to get off on a good foot. The German saved two break points in her first service game and another in her second - all with strong serves and one-two punches - and came through seven deuces combined to hold both times. In between, mixing up power and touch garnered her a speedier break of the Martic serve to put her in the driver's seat.
But down 0-3, Martic steadied herself, and took advantage of a foreshadowing Siegemund double fault down break point to get back on serve. Both players settled into a groove behind their delivery, with no further break opportunities hoving into view until the very end of the set, when some fine volleying from Martic allied with another pair of Siegemund double faults enabled the Dubai and Palermo semifinalist to break for 6-5.
Siegemund - who had retired from her second-round doubles match the day before due to a back injury - chose to take a 10-minute medical timeout at this point, and on resuming rattled off three clean winners to break Martic back and force the tiebreak.
Therein, Martic would get her nose in front thanks to slamming a forehand down the line for a 2-0 lead, and just about hold on to her lead despite Siegemund nipping at her heels throughout. Having scrapped her way to the first set point of the opening act, Martic would again be the recipient of a Siegemund double fault gift on a big point - the 2017 Stuttgart champion's seventh in total.
Having been the swifter player to take charge of points in the first set, with her 23 winners balanced by 23 unforced errors, a change of tactics in the second led to Siegemund keeping a much tighter ship. The World No.66 successfully reduced her error count to a mere four and eradicated those pesky double faults completely - enabling a set of absolute serving supremacy in which she conceded only one point behind her delivery.
Taking the steam out of her game also took the intensity out of the battle - none of the games in this frame would go to deuce - and, slowly but surely, Siegemund was able to regain her equilibrium and inch back into contention. The Auckland quarterfinalist pounced in the fifth game, her most aggressive on return, and a succession of fierce forehands paid dividends as she broke for a 3-2 lead.
Up 5-3, Siegemund conjured up one of the best shots of the match, a flicked backhand pass at full stretch; in response, Martic coughed up three loose errors to hand a second break, and with it the set, over to the former World No.27.
The pair's only previous contest had been a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 battle in the quarterfinals of Bucharest in 2018, won by Martic - but for all the similarity of the first two sets, there would be no repeat of the close decider today. Instead, Siegemund maintained her sky-high serving level to drop just four points behind her delivery in the third set - all the while piling pressure on Martic with an array of shotmaking.
The Croat would have little response as 13 unforced errors cascaded from her racquet over the course of the set: a cheap forehand over the baseline conceded the first break, and a magical Siegemund lob confirmed a second. Down 0-5, there was no stopping Siegemund, who powered away a backhand winner with relish on her first match point to set up a fourth-round date with 2015 junior winner Paula Badosa, who beat 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets.
"I know her as a player, and we practice. I played a match against her, yeah, in the small tournament in Karlsruhe. She's a good clay-court player, and I think it would be also mattering the physics now," the German said.
"I try not to look very much ahead and jump -- if's a quarterfinal, if it's whatever it is, I try to really stay in the moment and try to make the most of the game that I have right now.
"I was doing a really good job in solving problems this week, and that's what I have to stay in. I want to have better starts into matches. That's what I did today was better. There is always something you can do better, and I'm really trying to stick to that and not jump ahead with the mind where I want to go.
"Of course everyone wants to go in a quarterfinal, semifinal, win the tournament. But it's the small steps on the what you have to focus on, and that's a good recovery now and, you know, finding my game early in the next match."