ZHENGZHOU, China - Kristina Mladenovic took the honors in an all-French derby in the second round of the Zhengzhou Open, dismissing No.8 seed Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-2 in one hour and 41 minutes.
It is the French No.2's second defeat of the French No.1 this year, backing up her 6-1, 6-2 win in the first round of Rome in May, and moves her into a sixth quarterfinal of the season - also giving Mladenovic the chance to break that barrier to reach the last four of a tournament for the first time since St Petersburg 2018. For Garcia, though, the result extends a streak in which she has failed to win consecutive matches to seven tournaments going back to Mallorca in June.
The first set was marked by fits and starts of momentum as both players' level peaked and dipped in bursts. Garcia was the first to strike, flashing a series of irresistible forehands to save a break point in her opening game and then capture Mladenovic's serve for 2-0 - but the latter swiftly hit back to reel off four straight games to lead 4-2.
Garcia's strategy was to attack the Mladenovic backhand relentlessly, but that wing held firm for the former World No.10, who frequently surprised her opponent with her ability to hit through it for a number of down-the-line winners - though, of course, her trademark dropshot from that side also worked wonders on a number of key occasions.
Nottingham champion Garcia would struggle with keeping her mistakes under control, with impatient shot selection leading to an overall deficit of 21 unforced errors to 11 winners in the first set - but nonetheless mustered up another small purple patch, slamming brilliant returns and passes to take three games on the trot to lead 5-4. But at the business end of the set, it was ultimately Mladenovic who proved more clutch. A series of unreturnable serves took the steam out of Garcia's red-hot form, and combining power with point construction, the 26-year-old captured her own triptych of games for the set.
The second set found Mladenovic's momentum gather pace as Garcia, increasingly out of ideas, lapse even further into error. The 25-year-old's final stand was the third game: with Mladenovic's variety threatening to take a stranglehold of the match, Garcia battled valiantly to fend off the double break. It was in vain, though: Mladenovic would take her fifth break point of the game and ride that advantage to victory, with only one more mini-tussle as she had save save break point en route to serving the match out providing further drama.
Up next for the World No.49 will be either No.2 seed Elina Svitolina or Yulia Putintseva as she seeks to snap her streak of quarterfinal defeats.