When a Grand Slam qualifying epic lights up, it can turn into something special. As the second round got under way at Roland Garros, Jaqueline Cristian and Mayar Sherif proved that in a match that had everything - fightbacks, fierce emotions and phenomenal tennis.
Ultimately, Cristian would upset No.13 seed Sherif 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(1) in three hours and three minutes, the longest match of the qualifying rounds so far. That wasn't before Sherif displayed some real battling spirit, though.
Cristian, who reached her first WTA quarterfinal this March in St. Petersburg, had the upper hand as she advanced to a 5-3 second-set lead. The Romanian held two match points as she served for the match, but Sherif saved both - the first with a superb backhand pass at full stretch - and seized the momentum to force a decider.
Sherif, who became the first Egyptian woman to compete in a Grand Slam main draw at Roland Garros last year, continued to cling on. Cristian built a 3-0 double-break lead in the third set, but Sherif levelled at 5-5 after preventing her opponent from serving out the win a second time.
But to 22-year-old Cristian's credit, she managed to find the tennis she needed to prevent Sherif from completing the comeback. In the deciding tiebreak, it was Cristian who came up with a no-look high backhand volley and a marvellous backhand crosscourt winner to take control.
Zvonareva, Schmiedlova set final-round clash
Two in-form former Top 30 players will battle for one place in the Roland Garros main draw tomorrow. No.1 seed Vera Zvonareva dispatched Mariam Bolkvadze in one hour and 17 minutes, while No.18 seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova moved past Tamara Korpatsch 6-0, 6-4 in one hour and 41 minutes to set up a meeting in the final round.
The pair are coming off fine results over the past month. Former World No.2 Zvonareva scored her first Top 10 win on clay in 11 years over Petra Kvitova in Rome, while former World No.26 Schmiedlova defeated Venus Williams in Parma last week. This will be their second meeting this year: Zvonareva was a 6-2, 6-1 victor in their Madrid qualifying match.
Former Grand Slam semifinalists Vandeweghe, Pironkova ousted
Two players who have had much Grand Slam success fell in three-set encounters as Wednesday came to a close. In the final completed match of the day, Anastasia Gasanova defeated former World No.9 CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in just under two hours of play.
Vandeweghe was a semifinalist at the two hardcourt majors in 2017, but her Roland Garros record is spotty, with just three trips to the second round as her best result. As the American continues her return from injuries, she was unable to get past the Russian, who is having a breakthrough season.
Gasanova started the year by stunning Karolina Pliskova in Abu Dhabi for her first Top 10 win, and then charged into her first WTA quarterfinal on home soil in St. Petersburg. Now in her first-ever Grand Slam qualifying event, Gasanova converted seven of her ten break points to reach the final round of qualifying.
No.10 seed Tsvetana Pironkova was also eliminated by an opponent playing in her first-ever Grand Slam qualifying event. Susan Bandecchi of Switzerland stunned the former Wimbledon semifinalist, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, winning the final six games of the match from 0-3 down.
Pironkova made a stellar return to tennis at last year's US Open, where she reached the quarterfinals after three years of inactivity. After qualifying for both 2020 Roland Garros and the 2021 Australian Open, this will be the first Grand Slam main draw the Bulgarian will miss in her comeback.
For Bandecchi, reaching the final round of qualifying is a career highlight. The Swiss player, currently ranked at a career-high World No.219, is playing in the first Tour-level qualifying draw of her career, and is now one win away from a Grand Slam main-draw debut.
Parrizas Diaz, Gorgodze represent for the late bloomers
A 29-year-old is guaranteed to make her Grand Slam main draw debut in Paris this year after a decade of plugging away on the ITF World Tour. Nuria Parrizas Diaz upset former finalist and No.5 seed Sara Errani 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, while Ekaterine Gorgodze edged Elitsa Kostova 7-6(5), 6-3. The pair will now meet in the final qualifying round.
Parrizas Diaz has enjoyed a career surge in 2021. The Spaniard played her first professional match in 2006, but did not compete in a WTA-level qualifying event until the 2020 Australian Open.
This year, she went on a 16-match winning streak in February and March as she collected ITF W25 titles in Potchefstroom, South Africa, and Manacor, Spain. Parrizas Diaz's form continued at Tour level when she made the quarterfinals of Bogota in April on her WTA main draw debut. Here, the fine angles she found on her forehand were key to hitting through Errani's indefatigable defence.
Gorgodze, who also made her professional debut in 2006, will be seeking to become just the fifth Georgian woman to compete in a Grand Slam main draw following Leila Meskhi, Anna Tatishvili, Sofia Shapatava and Mariam Bolkvadze.
Konjuh, Osorio Serrano move on in style
Belgrade finalist Ana Konjuh and Bogota champion Maria Camila Osorio Serrano have shown they can make a serious impact at Tour level recently, and continued to demonstrate their superiority over the qualifying field.
Konjuh overcame a lapse to take out No.4 seed Timea Babos 6-3, 7-5, erasing a 1-4 second-set deficit en route. The Croat had previously lost to Babos twice as a teenager, but overpowered the Hungarian efficiently and sealed victory with a fine backhand volley.
Osorio Serrano twice found herself down a break to former World No.94 Richel Hogenkamp early in the first set. But once the Colombian had found her groove, she dominated for a 6-4, 6-0 victory, winning the last eight games of the match.
Victories for former junior champions Liang, Wang Xiyu
2018 Australian Open girls' champion Liang En-Shuo and 2018 US Open girls' champion Wang Xiyu both progressed in straight sets, overcoming subpar recent form to do so.
Liang came into Paris with a 0-4 record on clay this year, but is now into the final qualifying round of a Grand Slam for the first time after a 7-6(9), 6-4 defeat of Asia Muhammad.
The 20-year-old from Chinese Taipei came from 3-5 down in the first set and saved three set points in the ensuing tiebreak, two with superb forehand winners. That was the stroke that served her best throughout the match and enabled her to dictate rallies against her American opponent.
Wang's season record before Paris was just 6-10 overall, but she dominated with her power for a 6-0, 6-3 win over Mayo Hibi. The Chinese 20-year-old struck 28 winners and never lost her serve.
Meanwhile, Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who lost to Liang in the 2018 Australian Open junior semifinals, also won a late match on Wednesday. No.9 seed Cocciaretto ousted Francesca Di Lorenzo, 7-6(3), 6-0, in an hour and a half.