ZHENGZHOU, China -- Kristina Mladenovic of France claimed her third Top 10 victory of the season when she upset No.2 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in a marathon late-night encounter, to move into the semifinals of the ICBC Credit Card Zhengzhou Open at the end of a jam-packed Friday.
"This match was so physical, I’m just super proud I got through it," Mladenovic told the media, after her win. "You know, [Svitolina is] the master of these kind of challenges and marathon matches, and I’m just overwhelmed right now to get to the semifinals."
World No.49 Mladenovic had reached five WTA quarterfinals in 2019 prior to this week, but the Frenchwoman had yet to turn any of those chances into a semifinal showing. That changed after her two-hour and 44-minute victory over last week’s US Open semifinalist Svitolina, the World No.3.
"I just tried to play my game, which is aggressive no matter against who I’m playing, and with lots of variety," Mladenovic stated. "I tried to come in and mix it up with some slices and dropshots, and it eventually paid off."
The match ended after 1:00 a.m. local time as the tournament got back on track after a rainout on Thursday. Mladenovic blasted 59 winners, many off of her fierce forehand, to 55 unforced errors, including 12 double faults, during the barnburner.
It was Svitolina's second three-setter of the day, as she had eked past Yulia Putintseva in a final-set tiebreak hours prior. The second seed was unable to pull off a similar feat against Mladenovic, despite firing 26 winners to just 20 unforced errors in her match against the unseeded Frenchwoman.
Mladenovic cracked the first set open early, breaking Svitolina with a forehand winner on break point after the Ukrainian had led 40-15. Mladenovic then had to get through an exceptionally lengthy service game to consolidate, withstanding an astounding 18 deuces and staving off six break points before gutting out a hold for 3-1 that took over 25 minutes.
Energized by coming out on top in that game, Mladenovic broke Svitolina in the next game with a forehand winner down the line, and continued to excel from that wing to extend her lead to 5-1. Svitolina saved a set point and fired a backhand winner down the line to claim one break back at 5-2, but Mladenovic converted her second set point two games later to close out the opener.
Mladenovic then hit a forehand return winner down the line to go up an early break at 2-1 in the second set. However, Svitolina used strong volleying to attain a break point in the subsequent game, and the Ukrainian converted that chance to get back level at 2-2. The combatants then held their services in a number of closely contested games up through 5-4.
In that game, it appeared as though Mladenovic would continue that pattern, finding winners down the line off both wings to reach 40-15, but the speed of Svitolina kept her in the game, and, after drawing back to deuce, the World No.3 hit a backhand return winner into the corner to suddenly hold set point. There, Svitolina held her ground at the net during a rally, and punched a winner to level the match.
In the decider, though, Mladenovic returned to finding fantastic forehands at will, dominating from that side to break Svitolina in the Ukrainian’s first two service games and build a commanding 3-0, double-break advantage.
A run of seven straight service breaks commenced, as Svitolina thrice would grab one break back, only to drop serve in the very next game each time. Mladenovic saw a 40-0, triple match point advantage fall by the wayside at 5-2, as she was plagued by double faults in that game, but in the next game, she converted her fifth match point with a backhand passing shot to wrap up the lengthy affair.
Mladenovic will now face No.7 seed Petra Martic in the semifinals. Croatia’s Martic emerged victorious in a lengthy quarterfinal match of her own, overcoming No.4 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 after two hours and 38 minutes of play. Martic leads their head-to-head 3-1, including two victories this season.
"[Martic and I] know each other really well," said Mladenovic. "We’ve played each other already this season a couple of times. I did follow [the Martic/Sabalenka] match because I was after them, so I did watch some of it."
"I’ll just try to recover as much as I can," Mladenovic added. "This is the important thing for me, because she’s definitely a great player and also having an amazing season so far."