GSTAAD, Switzerland - Mandy Minella has reached her first WTA quarterfinal following maternity leave at the Ladies Championship Gstaad, upsetting No.2 seed Johanna Larsson 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 11 minutes.
The Luxembourger gave birth to daughter Emma last October and returned to competition in February. Coming into this tournament, she had compiled a 31-13 record and won three ITF $25,000 titles - including two, in Essen and Stuttgart, in her last four tournaments.
Using her protected ranking of World No.104 judiciously, Minella has focused on rebuilding her form on the ITF circuit, opting out of Wimbledon to save her allowance to enter the US Open. Gstaad is just the fourth WTA event of the 32-year-old's comeback - and today's defeat of an opponent who had beaten her on three out of four previous meetings marks her first Top 100 win as a mother.
Minella was extremely satisfied with the win afterwards. "I could execute my tactical plan from the beginning," she assessed her play. "I think I played very smart, and I could play exactly like I imagined I should play against her - so I guess I had a good day!"
Minella's forehand was on song throughout the match, with a smooth inside-out stroke followed by a down-the-line winner earning her a break point in Larsson's opening service game - which the Swede immediately conceded with a double fault.
Thereafter, both players protected their serves efficiently until the final game of the set. Minella was rewarded for a strategy of attacking the Nurnberg champion's weaker backhand side, sprinkled with a few canny dropshots; and though Larsson's indefatigable defence won her a handful of classic clay-court points, her normally reliable topspin forehand leaked a few too many errors at key moments to erase the deficit.
A dramatic final game saw the 29-year-old save three set points with her best forehands of the match - but Minella drew on the dropshot once again, first to save a break point and then to finally close out the set with a clean winner.
As in the first set, the World No.226 struck early on return: another dropshot followed by a forehand pass sealed an immediate break of the Larsson serve, and Minella was sharp in fending off two break-back points in the subsequent game.
Those would be the last break opportunities of the match. Minella, now winning 83% of her first serve points in the second set, stuck with the same efficiently-executed tactics to maintain her lead; Larsson, who racked up six aces, would also display some quality tennis behind her serve, but ultimately paid the price for her slow start in both sets and her erratic forehand. The former World No.66 would close out the match with consecutive love holds to make her way into her first WTA quarterfinal since Taipei City in 2017 - where she will face either Sara Sorribes Tormo or Tamara Korpatsch.
Travelling with daughter Emma, Minella also paid tribute to her hotel's childcare facilities. "There's a little room with tons of games and she's in there all the time," she smiled. "It's a very calm tournament - it's not a rush like in the Grand Slams where there lots of people - and [Emma] enjoys it."