PARIS, France - Former World No.10 Kristina Mladenovic kicked off her French Open campaign in earnest on Sunday, outlasting compatriot Fiona Ferro, 6-3, 7-6(3) to reach the second round.
A quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in 2017, Mladenovic has shown signs of the form that took her to back-to-back Premier clay court finals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and Mutua Madrid Open that same year, ending Ferro's challenge after 96 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
"A victory is a victory," she said in her post-match press conference through translation. "You just take whatever comes up.
"But it's true that it keeps us alert, to have the fact of having difficult situations where you save break points and you have to play everything physically, mentally, to stay positive, to find the right resources when you're back against the wall and facing a difficult situation."
The Frenchwoman was ranked as low as World No.68 earlier in the season, but has moved back up the rankings since pairing with successful coach Sascha Bajin (who formerly worked with World No.1 Naomi Osaka and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams), reaching the Internazionali BNL d'Italia quarterfinals two weeks ago. Playing her home major tournament has only kept the good vibes going.
"I have never had any problems, in management or mistakes with respect to my previous Roland Garros tournaments. It's always been a great pleasure. I always took it in the best way possible.
"That means it's just a trait of my character. It depends on how I take pressure or adrenaline or tension which can exist because I'm a French player and I'm playing Roland Garros.
"But I try to turn that into something very positive, joyful, and to keep smiling and see that as a big challenge, where I have to fight with the difficulty of trying to overcome that challenge."
Against Ferro, she shook off an early break deficit to win five straight games, ultimately taking the set on a fourth break of serve.
She seemed on course for a decisive victory in the second set before Ferro, who made her Top 100 debut last season, excited the crowd with a late surge, breaking Mladenovic to serve for a decider.
"At no point in time did she give up, and she played her chance all the way till the end. It's always difficult to start the tournament. You never play your best match at the very beginning, the first round."
Mladenovic soon steadied, breaking straight back and played solid tennis in the ensuing tie-break to secure victory.
"I'm very satisfied that I won today. I had good moments. There are other points I would like to improve, and there is a lot of game strategy that I have to implement for the next rounds. I have to work on that right from my next practices.
"But the main task was to win the match today. It was really difficult. Fiona is young, full of talent. She had nothing to lose, and I had all the pressure on my shoulders today."
The French star ended the match with one more winner than unforced error (21 to 20) and converted six of nine break point opportunities while winning over half of the points played on Ferro's serve.
Standing between the 26-year-old and a spot in the third round is TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul champion Petra Martic, who reached the Volvo Car Open semifinals and captured her first title in Istanbul to start the clay court season.
The pair last played at that tournament, with Martic narrowly winning in a third-set tie-break.
"When I saw the draw, I knew it's a very difficult draw for the second round. As I was saying, maybe if she's not well known from the general public, but she's a very dangerous player on the clay. She has a very high number of wins over losses.
"After Istanbul, then she did a very good tournament in Madrid, and she has been in the second week of Roland Garros many years. She's a very tough opponent.
"I think that she's the favorite for our match, because she's very strong on clay. But it's true that we had a benchmark match in Istanbul not so long ago. So I will see that match again to be better prepared to go further."