Elina Svitolina extended her winning streak to six matches with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 defeat of qualifier Storm Hunter from a set and a break down in the second round of Roland Garros.
She will next face Anna Blinkova, who needed nine match points to seal a 2-hour, 51-minute upset of No.5 seed Caroline Garcia 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Their third-round meeting will be a rematch of last week's Strasbourg final, which Svitolina won 6-2, 6-3 to capture her 17th Hologic WTA Tour title.
The morning after Svitolina's husband, Gaël Monfils, lit up the Court Philippe-Chatrier night session with a win over Sebastian Baez from 4-0 down in the fifth set, the Ukrainian ground out a comeback victory of her own with Monfils watching in the stands. The result moves her into the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2022 Australian Open.
"I was watching [Gaël], but not live -- I was screaming in my hotel room," said Svitolina in the on-court interview. "So if anyone heard it, that was me cheering. It was an unbelievable match and I don't know what he's doing here now, I think he should be resting. But I'm really thankful for him coming to support me."
Later, she said that the late finish to Monfils' match had not affected her preparation -- but instead, inspired her.
"It definitely didn't cause the slow start," Svitolina told press. "I watched the whole match. I was up until midnight when the match was done and went to bed straight away. Actually, was sleeping good. Had a solid seven hours of sleep, which is quite good for the Grand Slam."
"It gave me actually motivation to go again today. He was there for me today. Made such a big effort to come and support me, especially in a tough day like today. So really it motivated me to fight and not give up and play every point, try to put 100% effort out there."
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Turning point: Hunter's singles ranking may be a mere No.204, but the Australian is the doubles World No.5, and fresh off the Rome title with Elise Mertens. Her quality shone through in the first set, during which she struck 11 winners to Svitolina's seven.
Hunter's heavy left-handed forehand and canny use of the drop shot stood out, and her form carried over into the second set. After capturing an early break, she held five points to consolidate it and lead 3-1.
But Svitolina began to land more telling blows with her forehand just as Hunter's backhand started to misfire. Hunter's five game points went begging and, after 10 minutes, she double faulted facing a first break point.
That was the foothold Svitolina needed to turn the match in her favor. From 2-1 down in the second set, the former World No.3 won 11 of the next 13 games in an increasingly dominant display. Coming to net with greater alacrity, she found 18 winners in sets two and three. By contrast, Hunter's unforced error count mounted under pressure, tallying 31 in the last two sets.
In Svitolina's words: "It was really tough to play against Storm in the first set. She came out firing winners and playing really well. I didn't think I played that bad in the first set, but she was the better player on court. I had to regroup, refocus and try to bring my best game. The second and third sets were a good match from me."
Blinkova takes out French No.1 Garcia: At Roland Garros 2019, Blinkova scored a career milestone after coming from a set down to defeat Caroline Garcia 1-6, 6-4, 6-4, a result that put her into the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Four years later, Blinkova reprised that result to notch her first career Top 5 win and to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the second time. It is the 24-year-old's second Top 10 win following her defeat of Belinda Bencic in the first round of Shenzhen 2020.
Ranked No.138 as recently as October, Blinkova has rejuvenated her career since. She captured her first career title as a qualifier at Cluj-Napoca last autumn, and has reached the Hobart semifinals and Strasbourg final this year to hit a career-high of No.56 this week.
Against Garcia, Blinkova showed fortitude to withstand a raucous Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd and an opponent who fought valiantly to the last. The opening set was decided by an early break for Garcia, who would only drop six points behind her own serve and did not face a break point as she held on to the lead.
However, the Frenchwoman's first serve percentage dropped from 65% in the first set to 33% in the second and 52% in the third. Blinkova, who exhibited superb first-strike shotmaking herself, took full advantage.
The last two sets were characterized by nail-biting climaxes as Garcia fought to stay in them. Down 5-2 in the second, she saved three set points and navigated eight deuces to break Blinkova back. Down 5-3 in the third, she saved two match points and came through five deuces as Blinkova served for the match.
Each time, Blinkova shrugged off the setback and continued to commit to her tactics, while Garcia's execution proved too hit-or-miss to mount a real comeback. After getting broken back in the second set, Blinkova responded by reeling off eight of the next nine points to seal the set anyway. In the third, she broke again to lead 6-5, then triumphed in one last nine-deuce tussle to seal her ninth match point with a service winner.
Adjustment key for Blinkova: "I tried to use different zones," said Blinkova afterwards, referring to changing her placement, speeds and positioning.
"I had to keep the variety, first of all, in my serve. And I tried to change the trajectory of the ball, which wasn't easy at all, because I was receiving very fast balls of big speeds. I tried to change my placement on the return, especially on the second serve. She's a very big server, and her second serve is a high kick, so sometimes I tried to step in and take the ball early. Sometimes it was too tough, and I was stepping back to give myself some time to not miss the return, but to put the return in.
"Also, it was very windy, so always taking the ball early was difficult. That's why sometimes I was stepping in to be aggressive, sometimes returning from the back to disturb her a little bit, but also to not miss returns."