PARIS, France - No.13 seed Kristina Mladenovic was again pushed to the brink by an American in Paris this fortnight, but pulled off another improbable comeback to defeat Shelby Rogers, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6, and reach the second week of her home Grand Slam for the first time.
In front of a raucous crowd on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Mladenovic found herself trailing 2-5 in the final set, and Rogers served for the match at 5-3. Nonetheless, from 2-5 down, the No.13 seed reeled off 12 of the next 13 points to level the match at 5-5, and earned the decisive break of serve as the set reached its finale.
By the end of the match, Rogers, who was a surprise quarterfinalist in Paris a year ago, saw the Frenchwoman win 25 of the last 33 points to pull off the stunning comeback.
"Yeah, that was epic. I think that's the word I'm going to use today, because I still don't know how I won that match. I mean, 5-2 down in the third set. Quite a long fight there," Mladenovic said. "Shelby was playing great tennis, but I had no doubt about it, because, I mean, she played quarterfinals here last year and she has a great game for clay. She really pushed me through the last breath I had. Courage? I always believe until the last point. That's kind of my motto every single match."
In two hours, 46 minutes, Mladenovic pulled off the comeback with accurate hitting off the ground, as she stroked a total of 43 winners - including 28 off the forehand. Though she struggled on serve, hitting 13 double faults and serving just over 50 percent first serves for the match, she saved seven of the 11 break point opportunities that the American created in the match.
Mladenovic's comeback was buoyed by her increase in aggressive consistency - after the Frenchwoman won the opening set with 15 winners and 16 unforced errors, the American responded in kind, and struck 11 winners to just seven unforced to hit back in the second set.
With her back against the wall, however, Mladenovic saved her best tennis for the decider - with 19 winners and 14 unforced errors total.
"She didn't really miss a ball. I think she elevated her game," Rogers said of Mladenovic's turnaround. "[A] big round of applause for her. She played very well. I think it was a lot of positives to take from this tournament. Even today, you know, let the first set get away, then refocused, played really well. I'm proud of myself for doing that. Coming back in the second and fighting 'til the end."
"The French fans are awesome. They love their French players, and it's a really cool atmosphere, I guess, [to] try to pretend they are cheering for me. They have the wave going and everything. It's nice to see the fans of tennis like that."
In the opening round Court Philippe Chatrier, Mladenovic trailed by a set and 3-1 in the decider against Rogers' compatriot Jennifer Brady, and had the crowd firmly on her side as she rallied to win, 3-6, 6-3, 9-7. The No.13 seed was again pulled through by the partisan Parisian faithful on Friday as she mounted her secound come-from-behind win of the first week.
"First round was more dramatic epic, because the day before I'm, like, so down, almost crying. I'm, like, 'Why is this happening to me?,'" Mladenovic said of a back injury that's also plagued her tournament. "This one today was more like epic battle, like, great sports emotions. I think was a great game from both of us, putting on the show a little bit. Yeah, you know, the scenario with the scoreboard and everything makes it unbelievable for me today."
She continued: "On one hand you can say the crowd is amazing for you. It helps a lot. It's tough for the opponent. On another hand, you really have to handle that. I mean, nerves-wise and everything, I mean, today it's true. I'm coming back from nowhere. 2-5 down. But if I'm not making those shots, this tennis, I can be five, next minutes, like in the locker room. I am in a bad position, and I'm kind of pumping up the crowd again, you know, with the tennis I'm showing.
It's really not easy, because, like, that adrenaline energy of the crowd came back, but I also felt very down at 5-2 when I'm sitting on my chair, you can feel the breath of the crowd like this is over, like, okay, it's gonna be tough. Yeah, just kept on believing, fighting. I just like it. I have no explanation, really. I guess you either like it, deal with it, or not."
Mladenovic will face defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza, who defeated Yulia Putintseva earlier on Friday, for a spot in the quarterfinals.
"[It's a] tough draw, but I think it's also tough for her. It's gonna be exciting," the Frenchwoman said. "I think it's such a nice head to head coming up for everybody. I think for the tournament, for the crowd, for us. It's gonna be tough. It's gonna be tough. She's obviously playing great tennis, and had also tough matches, which shows she's in a great rhythm. I'm looking forward to this one."