Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Ana Konjuh have been responsible for two of the most eye-catching rises of 2021 so far, but this week they will need to navigate through three qualifying rounds just to reach the Roland Garros main draw.
On Tuesday, both players got off to good starts. No.11 seed Osorio Serrano dispatched fellow 2001-born WTA titlist Olga Danilovic 6-3, 6-2, while Konjuh moved past Robin Anderson 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes.
Their victories were all the more impressive given the quick turnaround time between their deep runs at the Serbia Ladies Open last week and the start of their Parisian campaigns. Osorio Serrano and Konjuh both came out of qualifying in Belgrade to play each other in the last four. Konjuh edged that clash in two tiebreaks, but had to retire during the final against Paula Badosa due to a hip injury.
Success in Serbia had continued a series of superb results this season for both. Osorio Serrano, 19, won her maiden title in Bogota in April as a wildcard playing her fourth WTA main draw. Two further WTA semifinals have enabled the Colombian to break the Top 100 this week, having ended 2020 at World No.186, and she is now in pursuit of her Grand Slam main draw debut.
Danilovic had become the first player born in 2001 to lift a WTA trophy after winning the 2018 Moscow River Cup, but Osorio Serrano displayed greater variety and nuance to blunt the Serb's power. Returning Danilovic's serve from well inside the baseline and deploying the dropshot to brilliant effect, Osorio Serrano needed only 65 minutes to claim victory.
Konjuh, 23, is a former World No.20 making a comeback from her fourth elbow surgery. Unranked as recently as last September, she has soared back up to World No.144 after reaching the fourth round of Miami, quarterfinals of Istanbul and final of Belgrade.
The Croat has scored wins over Madison Keys, Iga Swiatek and Yulia Putintseva en route, and is seeking a place in a Grand Slam main draw for the first time since Wimbledon 2018.
Big day for Bulgaria
Another Belgrade semifinalist, Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria, also picked up where she left off in Serbia. The No.16 seed claimed a 6-3, 6-4 win over Natalia Vikhlyantseva in her first-round clash.
She was joined in the second round by her compatriot Tsvetana Pironkova, as the No.10 seed fought past Caroline Dolehide of the United States, 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-4.
Pironkova returned to the tour after a three-year absence by making a spectacular run to the 2020 US Open quarterfinals, and she hasn't missed a Grand Slam main draw since, as she attempts to keep that streak alive. She reached the third round of 2020 Roland Garros as a qualifier, then successfully qualified again at the 2021 Australian Open.
Liu through, McNally forced to retire
Another former junior standout in superb form is No.20 seed Claire Liu. The 2017 Wimbledon girls' champion has reached four ITF finals this season, including consecutive green clay titles over the past month in Charlottesville and Charleston. Liu extended her season record to 24-7 and active winning streak to 10 with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 defeat of Rebecca Marino.
Fellow American Caty McNally was forced to retire just five games into her first match, though. McNally had captured her fourth WTA doubles title last weekend in Parma alongside Coco Gauff, but the No.6 seed called it quits trailing Liang En-Shuo 1-4 due to a calf injury.
Gasanova overcomes Gadecki in battle of upset artists
Back in January, Anastasia Gasanova and Olivia Gadecki made serious splashes as new faces on Tour. Russia's Gasanova made her WTA main draw debut in Abu Dhabi as a qualifier, and announced herself by immediately scoring a win over Karolina Pliskova.
A month later, Gadecki stunned Sofia Kenin at the Phillip Island Trophy - the unranked Australian's second WTA main draw. They remain the two lowest-ranked players to defeat Top 10 players in 2021.
Since those head-turning upsets, both have continued to trend upwards. Gasanova made the St. Petersburg quarterfinals in March, ousting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova en route, and has risen to World No.172. Gadecki picked up her first pro title in Antalya in April, and now sits at a career high of World No.518.
The two squared off in the first round of qualifying, with 22-year-old Gasanova recovering from an impatient first set to defeat 19-year-old wildcard Gadecki 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.
Hibi, Krunic score wins for finesse
There are few stylistic contrasts in any draw as extreme as that between Mayo Hibi and Georgina Garcia Perez. In a first encounter, Hibi's web of floating slices and deft touch overcame the powerful serves of the six-foot-one Garcia Perez 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 44 minutes.
Former World No.39 Aleksandra Krunic also scored a victory for subtle finesse over big hitting with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 upset of No.3 seed Liudmila Samsonova. The result is the Serb's first win over a player ranked inside the Top 120 since Guangzhou 2019, though signs of a return to form had been present as she picked up the doubles title in Belgrade last week.
Ruse rides rollercoaster, Babos edges You, Tsurenko survives
No.17 seed Elena-Gabriela Ruse and No.4 seed Timea Babos survived contrasting three-setters to reach the second round. Ruse found herself pitted against French wildcard Aubane Droguet for the second tournament in a row. Having defeated the 18-year-old 6-0, 6-7(8), 6-3 in the first round of the Saint-Gaudens ITF W60 event three weeks ago, Ruse came through 6-2, 0-6, 6-0 this time.
Former World No.25 Babos made heavy weather of You Xiaodi, coming through 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(2) in a gruelling two hours and 32 minutes. Next up for the Hungarian is another stern challenge in the form of Konjuh.
Another former Top 25 player eked her way into the second round, as No.30 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine edged American Danielle Lao, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(0).
Tsurenko watched Lao fight her way back from 4-0 to 6-6 in the rollercoaster third set, but Tsurenko would not allow Lao another comeback on the day as the former World No.23 swept every point in the decisive tiebreak.