PARIS, France - A clean performance saw No.7 seed Petra Kvitova return to the Roland Garros quarterfinals for the first time in eight years with a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of Zhang Shuai in one hour and 25 minutes.
The Czech reached the fourth round in Paris on her Grand Slam main draw debut in 2008, and has now notched up five appearances in the second week, but only her semifinal run in 2012 had previously seen her progress past the last 16. Today, 23 winners enabled her to comprehensively overpower Zhang, who - despite a promisingly level head-to-head coming in, which Kvitova only led 3-2 - was only intermittently able to hold her own against the two-time Wimbledon champion's thunderous groundstrokes.
Afterwards, Kvitova played down her clay ability and shrugged off the time since her last appearance at this stage of the tournament. "I think it's been a miracle for me to make the semifinal here in Roland Garros," she said. "I wasn't really the player who always ever succeed on the clay... After eight years to be in the quarterfinal again, it's great. I'm really happy for that, that I'm still able to play on all surfaces. One year I do remember I won tournaments on all surfaces. I showed myself that I can really play on every surface. So I'm glad for that."
Kvitova's aggressive intent was evident from the off, with the former World No.2 advancing to net to pound away a drive volley on the very first point. A brace of booming backhands paved the way to an immediate break - and then, expanding her repertoire, Kvitova captured a second thanks to both first-strike return winners and a delicate dropshot, aided by a pair of Zhang double faults.
That third game saw the Chinese No.2 unable to take three game points as Kvitova repeatedly found her best tennis when down, and a similar pattern repeated on the Doha finalist's serve in the sixth game. Kvitova was forced to battle through four deuces, but saved a break-back point with a service winner - and found another to close it out for a 5-1 lead.
Zhang would manage to save two set points on her own serve, including one with a bold backhand drive volley winner on the line, but could not prevent Kvitova from closing the opening act out with a minimum of fuss behind her own delivery, a game that featured a phenomenal forehand on the run from the World No.11 and was wrapped up with yet another unreturnable serve.
Kvitova kept her foot on the gas as the second set got under way, opening with another break of the Zhang serve - a game the 30-year-old started and ended with breathtaking backhands down the line. From there on, the Australian Open quarterfinalist appeared in cruise control, slamming away a backhand return winner to capture the double break for 5-2 - but closing the match out would prove trickier.
Serving for the match, Kvitova was afflicted by a rash of unforced errors, in part elicited by Zhang's greater willingness to redirect the ball earlier in rallies, and having been broken after sending a backhand over the baseline squandered a match point on the World No.39's serve with the same mistake.
Possession of the insurance break would, then, be fortuitous. Stepping up to the line to serve for the win a second time, Kvitova made no mistake, completing a love hold with an off backhand winner to seal a last-eight date with Laura Siegemund.
Afterwards, she said that she had become emotional as she had approached the finishing line, in particular thinking of starting her 2017 comeback from a knife attack at this tournament. "I got a bit emotional last two points of my match," Kvitova said. "I really started to think still about the match because in tennis we really never know when it's end. But my memories, happy memories, when I made my comeback here 2017, when I step on the Philippe Chatrier, I couldn't really imagine me to be in the quarterfinal of this slam. Everything just came back to me... It's been long ride definitely. Everything came to my mind when I had my whole family, people who I loved to helped me through the tough, tough time. I don't know, just everything came back to my mind. I just saw them. I was just playing on the Philippe Chatrier."