PARIS, France - No.7 seed Caroline Garcia flew the flag in style on Suzanne-Lenglen Court on Tuesday, dominating the unseeded Duan Yingying 6-1, 6-0 in 58 minutes to become the fourth Frenchwoman to make the Roland Garros second round.
Entering her home Slam as the French No.1 for the first time, Garcia did not find her groove immediately. The 24-year-old has spoken in past years of the pressure she feels in Paris - and although a breakthrough run to her maiden Slam quarterfinals last year and a subsequent rise into the Top 10 might have exorcised some demons, there were nonetheless some vulnerabilities on display at the beginning.
A double fault and a handful of groundstroke errors put Garcia down a break immediately; though Duan's clay-court aversion is such that the World No.111 is yet to win a match on the surface at any level, she was nonetheless trading groundstroke blows efficiently.
"There is no surprise I was a bit tense," admitted Garcia afterwards. "A lot of frame, a lot of faults on my forehand... I couldn't feel the ball. It's true that in Roland Garros sometimes we are under more pressure than in another Grand Slam. Since this morning I have been a bit tense, but not extra tense."
An epic third game proved to be the match's first, and only, turning point. Having conceded her serve with some errant backhands, Duan carved out six break point opportunities as Garcia continued to misfire both on serve and off the ground. However, her own errors and inability to make key returns enabled the Wuhan and Beijing champion to emerge from that game unscathed.
As though a switch had been flicked, coming through that tussle settled Garcia down immediately. Punishing Duan's meagre 40% first serve percentage and exploiting her movement, the WTA Finals semifinalist rattled off 16 of the next 18 points to capture a set that had started tight, but ended as a one-sided gallop. Duan, with her power blunted by the surface, was unable to strike a winner over its course - but racked up 10 unforced errors as she found herself constantly off-balance.
"I took everything, tried to take everything she could give me, really," recalled Garcia about how she overcame her early tension. "Giving in on very few points, being as precise as possible, and being focused."
Elaborating on how she has learned to deal with nerves and pressure in general, Garcia said: "This is may sound stupid, but breathing helps you a lot."
She also uses "special movements" to loosen up. "Even when I'm not tense, movements, rhythm," she explained. "I try to use that, especially for the forehand. I was a bit late on it, so I had to get better organized."
The pattern continued in the second set. Having won 13 points in the first three games of the match, Duan would win just five over the next eight as Garcia sped out to a 4-0 second set lead, tallying five aces and 18 winners.
As the World No.7 approached the finishing line, errors began to appear in her game once again as Duan dragged the final two games to deuce - but Garcia was able to right the ship without dropping serve, firing a backhand winner down the line to set up a second-round encounter with either Duan's compatriot Peng Shuai or Aleksandra Krunic. The result means that four Frenchwomen so far have won their first rounds, with Garcia following No.32 seed Alizé Cornet and wildcards Pauline Parmentier and Fiona Ferro.