PARIS, France - No.7 seed Caroline Garcia powered her way into the second week of Roland Garros for the second straight year, dismissing the challenge of Irina-Camelia Begu 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 19 minutes to make the fourth round again.
This time last year, Garcia was a big-stage underachiever who had yet to reach the second week of a major in 20 goes, with a particular reputation for disliking the pressure she felt in Paris.
A run to the quarterfinals, including an epic 6-4, 4-6, 9-7 win over Hsieh Su-Wei and triumph in an all-French fourth round over Alizé Cornet, paved the way for a breakthrough season that culminated in a phenomenal Asian swing, titles in Wuhan and Beijing catapulting the 24-year-old into the Top 10 and the WTA Finals field.
Entering Roland Garros as the No.1 French player for the first time, Garcia had shown little sign of tension in her first round against Duan Yingying, but had been taken to three sets by Peng Shuai in the second - and Begu, who had reached the fourth round here in 2016 and who owned two victories over Garcia in five meetings so far, was another stern test.
The Stuttgart and Madrid semifinalist came on court to an air of local disappointment, having been preceded by losses for ATP compatriots Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils - the latter over five sets on Suzanne Lenglen Court, where Garcia was also playing.
But the Singapore semifinalist shot out of the gates, rattling off the first 11 points of the match with a barrage of big serves and forehand winners.
"I'm very happy to win this match. I think compared to my first two matches it was a better game on court. I played better," Garcia said after the match.
"My shots were coming out of the racquet more clean, and that's what I was working on yesterday and this morning. I'm definitely happy with my better game today, and I needed to play better, because Irina is always a fighter."
Dominant on serve - Garcia's first serve percentage in the first set was 66%, and she won 85% of those points; consequently, she would cede only five points behind her delivery - just two games posed any challenge to the French juggernaut.
In the fourth game, Begu lit upon booming first serves of her own to hold to love - but conversely, two games later the Romanian would serve four double faults and spurn five game points to fall behind a double break.
One of the most visible improvements to Garcia's game over the past year is her evolution into a clear-thinking match player as well as a talented shotmaker, and she began the second set by piling even more pressure on to her opponent. A delicate volley and a lightning forehand down the line paved the way to an immediate break point - to which Begu responded with a fifth double fault.
Frequently, the World No.40's groundstrokes would be unable to cope with the sheer weight of Garcia's shots, and her 29 unforced errors over 16 games simply provided the local favorite with too comfortable a cushion. But last year's quarterfinalist was also in irresistible form, striking 18 winners and dropping just three further points on serve as she forged her way to a 5-1 lead.
It was then that, for the first time, Garcia's delivery was challenged. Dominating off the ground, Begu nailed a forehand down the line - and then a clean backhand winner, also down the line, to carve out her first break point chances of the match. The Istanbul semifinalist only needed one as an attempted Garcia counterdrop limped halfway up the net.
But Begu's service woes continued to plague her. The final game of the match would feature some of the best tennis of the match and extend over seven deuces - but also included the Romanian's eighth and ninth double faults of the day.
The 27-year-old would fight off four match points, three with service winners and one with a spectacular inside-out forehand winner; but on the final two points, succumbed as first a volley drifted wide with three-quarters of the court open, and then by burying a putaway forehand in the net.
Having proven her ability to come through clutch moments at home once again, Garcia will next seek to reprise her trip to the last eight against either resurgent No.12 seed Angelique Kerber or one of the clay swing's most in-form players, No.18 seed and Charleston champion Kiki Bertens.
"It will be a big fight either Kerber or Bertens win this one," Garcia said. "Bertens...she's always playing great tennis on the clay court, and she had some good experience in French Open in the past.
"Angie, she's playing way better this year. Last year she had a complicated year, but she managed to finish Top 20 so that means she's still a great player. It's always tricky lefty bringing a lot of balls back.
"I will have to play my game either against both of them and maybe I will be able to go through."