PARIS, France – Karolina Pliskova faced her biggest test of the tournament against an inspired Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay, but survived a two-hour battle to complete the comeback victory.
The World No.3 had to come back from a set down for the first time in the tournament, escaping 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to take the last spot into the French Open quarterfinals, where she’s set to face French favorite Caroline Garcia.
“I think I [have] played better tennis, especially this year, and even on clay,” Pliskova said in her post-match press conference. “I can play better than I was playing those first four matches. “Hopefully the level is going to improve more in the next round, and then it's open.
“It was tough win today, definitely, for me. Right now I feel happy. Especially with not playing well to be in the quarters and on clay, it's huge for me.”
The win keeps Pliskova on track for a chance to rise to the WTA World No.1 ranking; Angelique Kerber’s first round loss opened the door for Pliskova to usurp the ranking should she reach the final here in Paris. She now sits just two wins away.
But the quarterfinals seemed far away for Pliskova as Cepede Royg got going on Court Suzanne Lenglen, getting off to a commanding start against the World No.3 and opening with back-to-back breaks of the fearsome Pliskova serve.
Cepede Royg was playing against the biggest opponent of her career after her incredible run saw her open the tournament with a victory against former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova, earn her first Top 20 victory against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and then roar back from two points away from defeat against good friend Mariana Duque-Mariño in the last round.
The Paraguayan played patiently in the opening set, retrieving every ball and forcing Pliskova to make the moves, drawing out the unforced errors. She mixed up the rhythm with her sneaky drop shots and closed out the first set against the World No.3.
But the tide turned in the second, as Cepede Royg seemed to grapple with being a set away from the quarterfinals just in time for Pliskova to find her range.
The Czech struck back even stronger, allowing Cepede Royg just six points in the first four games as she broke twice to open up a comfortable 4-0, which she took to close out the second and level the score board.
Pliskova had a battle on her hands in the decider, as the pair traded breaks and Cepede Royg piled the pressure on the Czech. The Paraguayan had many changes to surge ahead in the third – held a break point to go up 4-2 and another two that would have had her serving for the match at 5-3 – but Pliskova refused to fade away with her stonewall defense.
She finally broke through in the ninth game, taking advantage of a slew of unforced errors to earn the deciding break against Cepede Royg and march into the quarterfinals after an hour and 53 minutes on court.
In the end just two points separated the two, with Pliskova winning 85 and Cepede Royg 83. The Czech struck 22 winners to 35 unforced errors against her opponent’s 23 and 30, but it was her four aces against Cepede Royg’s six double faults that made the difference.
Despite the loss, the World No.97-ranked Cepede Royg was in high spirits after the match; she’ll rise to a career-high ranking of at least No.78 after the new rankings are released, and she made Paraguyan history as the first player from her country to reach the round of 16 at any Grand Slam.
“I'm a little bit sad because I lost, of course,” she said in press. “But I'm really happy because I did reach fourth round. And she's No. 3 in the world so it’s not easy to play with her. She's a good player with a lot of experience.
“I'm really happy with the result. Of course I wanted more, but I fight every point in my match. I played well, so I think it's a good tournament for me.”