Emma Navarro made her Hologic WTA Tour debut on a clay court. She was a 17-year-old wild card at her home tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, and she bowed out in straight sets to German veteran Laura Siegemund.

But after a surge up the rankings over the past 12 months, this is Navarro's first full tour-level clay season. In fact, it's a season of firsts for the 23-year-old Navarro, who won her first title in January, picked up her first Top 5 win in March and made her Top 20 debut in April. 

Now ranked No.24, Navarro is finding traction on European red clay to make her first appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

"It allows for some unique tennis, which is what I like," Navarro told WTA Insider last month in Madrid. "I like problem-solving, I like figuring things out. I like that I can be creative. 

"I like to play with some style. That's what I enjoy about tennis and the clay allows for that, a little bit more than hard courts."

It took Navarro a few tournaments to find her clay-court game, but it's all coming together this week at Roland Garros. Before Paris, she had yet to win a match against a Top 50 player on clay in her career. But she has not lost a set to make her first Round of 16, capping off her week with a 7-6(5), 7-6(3) win Saturday over No.14 seed and Strasbourg champion Madison Keys. 

"This year, definitely more so than last year, I'm in more of a position to where I'm looking to make runs," Navarro said. "I'm looking to go far in these tournaments. I'm excited to take on that challenge and maybe it'll come with more pressure and more expectations, but I'm ready for that challenge."

The next challenge is taking on No.2 Aryna Sabalenka on Monday. It's a rematch of their first meeting at Indian Wells in March, in which Navarro earned her first Top 5 win. 

'Almost exhibition tennis!' Navarro wins wild all-court point vs. Sabalenka

Navarro's comfort and improvements on clay have been slow and steady. She did not win back-to-back matches at her tournament debuts in Madrid and Rome but seemed to build some confidence with her play at the WTA125 in Paris, which was played during the second week of Rome. 

There, Navarro blitzed through four straight-set wins before losing the final to her doubles partner this week, Diana Shnaider, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. The result may not have been what she wanted, but Navarro got what she needed: matches. For a player who played 29 tournaments and 88 singles matches last year, there is no substitute for match-play. 

Navarro upsets Sabalenka in Indian Wells, grabs first Top 5 win

"I'm coming into my own as to who I am as a player,'" Navarro said. "I'm getting more secure with the non-negotiables of how I like to play. I feel like I have a better grasp on who I am as a player, more than I have in the past."

When asked to define those "non-negotiables" Navarro says the goal is to play her tennis with intention. 

"No.1 it's my movement," Navarro said. "We talk a lot about being aggressive, which for a lot of people means how they're hitting their shots, but for me it's an all-around word. It's how I'm moving and getting into position. 

"Then point structure, playing through the middle of the court. My coach and I have our own language in how we say things but we say 'hit to the corners on my terms,' so I'm not just hitting to the corners just because I have an opportunity to. 

"And then attacking returns, these are things that are the pillars of my game."