One point away from an opening-round exit at the French Open for the first time in 11 years, Petra Kvitova found her best tennis.
The No.11 seed saved a match point to overcome Belgian qualifier Greet Minnen, 6-7(3), 7-6(5), 6-1, on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Sunday, staving off what would've been a second career first-round defeat in Paris dating back to 2010, where she was an unseeded 20-year-old and lost to Australian qualifier Sophie Ferguson.
Staring down 30-40 at 6-5 in the second set, Kvitova finished off a seven-shot rally with a crosscourt backhand winner to stay in it and hardly looked back to seal two-hour, 16 minute comeback: she forced a final set by winning the last three points of the tiebreak, and surrendered just three points on serve in the decider.
Confessing to Marion Bartoli on-court after the match that she felt nervous ahead of her first match in Paris this year, Kvitova found herself on the brink thanks to a steady performance from the world No.125, who won a set for the first time in her third career meeting with the two-time Wimbledon champion.
"First of all, definitely, she played very well. I didn't think that she played something different compared those two matches before, but I think just she likes clay. I think she has a good game for clay," Kvitova said after the match.
"I would say that from my side it wasn't really good from the beginning. I was very [much] struggling, I was missing a lot, I was double faulting a lot. I didn't really feel myself that well. I was pretty tight. It was really tough."
Though she denied Minnen an opportunity to win the opener earlier after leveling from 5-3 down, the Czech racked up 28 of her 44 unforced errors for the match in the opening set, as well as seven of her 11 double faults—including three in the tiebreak.
However, Kvitova's tennis grew cleaner as the match wore on, and she ended the second and third sets with more winners than unforced.
"I was just hoping that some point would just the turn the match... I was just playing point by point. I started to serve a little bit better in the second set, and that was pretty important," Kvitova said.
"I didn't really serve it out, unfortunately in the second. Suddenly, I was facing match point, which... in this time, you know it's match point, but you are not taking it like this. That's why probably I would go for it and I made a winner, which was very helpful in that moment.
"Since then, I think I felt a little bit better, and I was just trying to still be on the good mood and then play better."
Kvitova will next face former Top 20 player Elena Vesnina, who scored her first singles victory since a two-and-a-half-year long maternity leave over fellow touring mom Olga Govortsova, a lucky loser in the draw.
The Russian needed just 58 minutes to seal a 6-1, 6-0 victory, her first in Paris since 2017.
"I was just enjoying myself on the court, and I was not expecting that it's going to be that easy, like 1 and Love," Vesnina said. "I know Olga for many years. We've been playing together at the beginning of our careers, so I've known her for many years and I know her game style, so it was actually good to play someone that you know. Many girls on the draw, I was watching the draw, and I have no idea how they are playing."
Kvitova is 2-0 in her career against Vesnina, losing just eight games in four combined sets in matches in Madrid in 2016 and St. Petersburg in 2018.
"Petra is a great player and I have so much respect for her. She is a great champion. Of course, to play against her, it's a big challenge for me, as well. To play a Top 10 player in a Grand Slam, it's always not easy. You have to bring your best tennis on the court and you have to show that you want to win from the beginning of the match.
"I know that Petra had a tough match today... I've played against Petra a couple of times. She beat me, and she knows my game, I know her game, so we'll see. It's going to be very interesting, and I'm really looking forward to playing her."
After Kvitova was pushed to the limit by one qualifier, No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka overcame another in straight sets. The Belarusian needed just 75 minutes to see off Croatia's Ana Konjuh, 6-4, 6-3, who was in-form after reaching the final at the WTA 250 in Belgrade, Serbia two weeks ago and scored three straight-set wins in qualifying.
From 4-2 down in the opening set, Sabalenka quickly found her range: in all, she racked up seven aces and 24 winners — double Konjuh's total — and broke serve six times.
"I would say it wasn't a great level today from me, but I kept trying, kept fighting, kept trying to find my game," Sabalenka said. "It was a little bit [of a] nervous game, especially in the beginning, because I felt like everything is not going well, and I don't really feel my game.
"I'm really happy in the end of the first set I kind of could find the rhythm. I won the first set, and then everything start to be a little bit better. It was tough match. She's really aggressive. Sometimes, it was really tough to play under the pressure, under her pressure. I'm just really happy with this win."
While Sabalenka seeks her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at her highest career seeding, a 2020 quarterfinalist in Paris also made a winning return to the terre battue.
American Danielle Collins had not played since the Miami Open in March and recently underwent surgery to treat endometriosis, but overcame Chinese qualifier Wang Xiyu in two hours and 15 minutes, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
"Coming into this tournament, it's kind of different going into a tournament just after having surgery, and so having different goals, different expectations," Collins said after the match. "It was kind of a different mindset today going on court, which I haven't really experienced as a professional tennis player. I experienced that a bit in college when I was dealing with some injuries.
"I think before I went out on the court today I was just like, 'I have to give it my best, and I have to know my strengths and I have to be aware of the things that might not be feeling great at certain points in time.' I was really pleased with how I felt. I felt really great the whole way through.
"I was a bit nervous, too, today going out since this was my first real match since surgery. I do still think sometimes I was a bit hesitant, but as the match continued to go on, I became more and more confident physically. It was just a really rewarding match."
Collins will next face Ukrainian qualifier Anhelina Kalinina, who extended her active winning streak to 14 matches with an opening upset of Angelique Kerber.