No.28 seed Elise Mertens continued her mastery of No.3 seed Jessica Pegula in the third round of Roland Garros, winning 6-1, 6-3 in 1 hour and 22 minutes.
She will next face 2021 finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who returned to the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time since returning from injury with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 defeat of No.24 seed Anastasia Potapova.
Mertens has now won all three of her encounters against the American, including a streak of 15 straight games. In the 2021 Dubai quarterfinals, Mertens saved three match points and won the last 11 games of the contest; two years on, she picked up where she had left off, winning the first five games on Court Philippe-Chatrier. The result is the seventh Top 5 win of the Belgian's career, and first since defeating Simona Halep in the third round of Madrid 2021.
Mertens advances to the fourth round of Roland Garros for the third time, following 2018 and 2022. She has now tallied 13 second-week runs across her 25 career Grand Slam main-draw appearances.
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How the match was won: Mertens delivered a tactical masterclass to first dominate Pegula, then come through a tight second set that could have swung either way.
The 27-year-old's game was clicking in every aspect as she raced to a 6-1, 1-0 lead. She tallied nine winners to only four unforced errors in the opening set, including a series of perfectly weighted drop shots, a flicked backhand pass at full stretch and a number of emphatic overheads that called to mind her stellar doubles career.
Mertens was even able to bring up a break point at the start of the second set with a wild mishit lob winner on the baseline, duly converted for an early lead.
A pair of double faults in the next game beckoned Pegula into the match, though. The five-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist broke back, and began deploying the drop shot to superb effect herself as she gained a foothold in the contest.
The key game was the five-deuce tussle with which Mertens held for 5-3. The former No.12 switched tactics to slow the pace of rallies down, and she staved off one of the three break points she faced in this game with a classic clay-court defence-to-offence exchange.
In the face of this approach, Pegula's unforced error count mounted, eventually totalling 28 compared to 19 winners. Mertens finished with 20 winners to only 13 unforced errors.
Pavlyuchenkova pulls away from Potapova: Pavlyuchenkova's only previous meeting with Potapova had been a 3-hour, 20-minute barnburner in the first round of Istanbul 2021, which Potapova won 7-6(2), 6-7(8), 6-4. The rematch also required a deciding set, but was ultimately more straightforward as Pavlyuchenkova took the last nine games in a row to win in 1 hour and 51 minutes.
Initially coming out on the wrong end of the first set's longer exchanges, Pavlyuchenkova's powerful groundstrokes were working smoothly in the second half of the match. She struck 29 winners to Potapova's 17, and the quality of her returning was such that Potapova won only three points on serve in the third set.
Pavlyuchenkova, who was sidelined for much of 2022 due to a knee injury, advances to the second week of a major for the 10th time, and a third at Roland Garros. The World No.333 is the second lowest-ranked player ever to reach the last 16 at the French Open in the Open Era, following Serena Williams, who was ranked No.451 when she made that stage in 2018.
Only eight players have reached the fourth round at any Grand Slam in the Open Era while ranked lower: Emma Raducanu (No.338 at Wimbledon 2021), Martina Hingis (No.349 at the Australian Open 2006), Tatiana Golovin (No.354 at the Australian Open 2004), Kaia Kanepi (No.451 at the US Open 2017), Victoria Azarenka (No.683 at Wimbledon 2017), Kim Clijsters (unranked at the US Open 2009), Justine Henin (unranked at the Australian Open 2010) and Tsvetana Pironkova (unranked at the US Open 2020).