Daria Kasatkina captured the latest instalment of a rivalry going back to junior days, upsetting No.10 seed Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-2 Wednesday in the second round of Roland Garros.
The result puts the resurgent Russian into the third round of a major for the first time since Wimbledon 2018. Bencic's loss means there are no Top 20 players remaining in the bottom quarter of the draw, which had already seen exits from No.2 seed Naomi Osaka, No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu and No.16 seed Kiki Bertens.
The only player left in that quarter who has previously reached a Grand Slam semifinal is No.20 seed Marketa Vondrousova, ranked World No.21, who was the Roland Garros runner-up in 2019. The Czech needed just 62 minutes to dismiss Harmony Tan 6-1, 6-3, though the French wildcard delighted Court Philippe-Chatrier with a crosscourt tweener in the second set.
Kasatkina and Bencic had previously split four pro meetings two apiece, but had not met on clay since a pair of junior meetings in 2013. Bencic had won both of those, but here a resurgent Kasatkina demonstrated her prowess on the surface to triumph in one hour and 16 minutes.
Despite Kasatkina's game being seemingly tailor-made for clay, her best pro results have come elsewhere. Three of her four titles have been on hard courts, including the Phillip Island Trophy and St. Petersburg this year. Her defeat of Bencic was the 27th Top 20 win of her career, but only the fifth on clay.
But the World No.37 was able to dictate play with her heavy topspin forehand, racking up 27 winners to 14 unforced errors. Bencic also contributed to some stellar passages of play, with her own forehand and a number of drive volleys all working well, but for the most part found herself pinned back by Kasatkina. The Swiss finished with a ratio of 20 winners to 20 unforced errors.
Arguably the most impressive aspect of Kasatkina's game was her serve, which had become a key vulnerability as she slumped outside the Top 70 in 2019 and 2020. She never faced a break point, and tallied eight aces - including two in a row to seal victory.
"A lot has changed between 2018 and now," said Kasatkina. "There was one amazing year for me, which was important in a good and in the bad way. I learned a lot, and I think I become a little bit different, maybe more experienced, a bit more serious. Let's say I understand more why I'm winning or why I'm losing.
"At that time everything was just going with the wave, and I was not thinking that much. Now I'm analysing more what's going on in the situation I'm in. Getting maybe a bit more mature."
The second Czech woman to save at least one match point and progress this week 😅— wta (@WTA) June 2, 2021
🇨🇿 @K_Siniakova reels off six games in a row to seal victory over No.29 seed Kudermetova, 7-6(7), 5-7, 7-5!#RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/NSKqf2bIk5
Siniakova rides rollercoaster for Kudermetova upset
One of the most thrilling and unpredictable contests of Roland Garros so far was won by another player having a renaissance. Katerina Siniakova came through a 7-6(7), 5-7, 7-5 battle to upset No.29 seed Veronika Kudermetova in two hours and 52 minutes - a scoreline that only tells half the story of the match's many fluctuations.
Just over a fortnight ago, Siniakova's season record was a meagre 4-8. But the Czech scored one of her best career wins in Parma over Serena Williams, went on to reach the semifinals, and is now back in the third round of Roland Garros for the fourth year running.
Against Kudermetova, Siniakova won the first set from 2-5 down, lost the second from 3-0 up and won the third from 1-5 down. She saved two match points, both on her own serve, at 1-5 and 3-5. Each was fended off in bold fashion: the first with a pinpoint forehand down the line and the second with a swashbuckling drive volley.
Throughout, both players contributed to a contest of superb quality. Angled groundstrokes baseline power and rat-a-tat net exchanges were all plentiful. In the second set, Siniakova's focus wavered after a pair of confrontations with the umpire. However, on the brink of losing both the first and third sets, the World No.68 was able to summon all her fighting spirit as Kudermetova's consistency waned at the wrong time.
Zidansek, Cirstea progress
Also booking their places in the third round were the unseeded pair of Tamara Zidansek and Sorana Cirstea.
World No.85 Zidansek backed up her draw-busting first-round upset of Andreescu with a businesslike 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Madison Brengle. The Slovenian found herself pegged back from 5-0 to 5-4 in the first set, but gathered herself to race through the remainder of the match. Zidansek has now made it to the third round of a major for the first time.
Cirstea, fresh off a run to the Strasbourg final last week, had a tougher time against Martina Trevisan, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 37 minutes. Trevisan was a shock quarterfinalist here last year, but following that had compiled a paltry 2-12 record (0-7 in WTA main draws) before her first-round win over Alison Van Uytvanck this week.
Back at Roland Garros, Trevisan found some of the spirit of her dream September run to push Cirstea all the way. But at the climax of a deciding set that featured five breaks of serve, Cirstea managed to find just enough accuracy to go with her power. Serving for the match, the Romanian saved two points for Trevisan to level at 5-5, and got over the line on her third match point.
Draw effects: What it means
The top half of the fourth quarter is now seedless, and opportunity knocks for those remaining. Zidansek is in new territory, having never previously gone beyond round two of a major; she faces Siniakova, who is bidding to return to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the second time, following Roland Garros 2019. Zidansek leads their head-to-head 2-1.
The winner of that clash will face the winner of a tilt between two former Roland Garros quarterfinalists. Cirstea reached that stage back in 2009, as a 19-year-old on her second appearance here, upsetting Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic en route. Twelve years on, though, she is still searching for a second quarterfinal run at a major.
Kasatkina, meanwhile, reached her first two Grand Slam quarterfinals back-to-back at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018. It was a surge that took her into the Top 10 that year, and as the most accomplished player left in the section, she will be seeking to take advantage.