PARIS, France - No.13 seed Kristina Mladenovic thrilled the home crowd with a dramatic 3-6, 6-3, 9-7 victory over Jennifer Brady, overcoming a back injury to reach the second round at Roland Garros.
"I know I have lots of courage, but I have to say mentally it was extremely difficult for me," she said in her post-match press conference. "I did such a great preparation and sort of thing to happen to me just the day before, it's super negative.
"You know, I just tried to fight."
Mladenovic came to Paris as her nation's biggest hope for Grand Slam glory since Marion Bartoli captured the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. With an impressive clay court resume that features back-to-back finals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and the Mutua Madrid Open - narrowly losing each to Laura Siegemund and Simona Halep - there was talk that Mladenovic could be the first French woman to win her home Slam since Mary Pierce at the start of the new millenium.
"When you are out there on the center court in front of your home crowd and playing a Grand Slam and you don't feel 100% and even it's very bad, and, like, thousand of people can see that I'm pushing the ball and I'm not me, I just try to fight and find a solution."
An apparent back injury threatened to derail the entire operation, as she confessed to on-court announcer Fabrice Santoro that she had been in tremendous pain leading up to her match on Court Philippe Chatrier, leaving the court at 0-3 in the opening set for a medical timeout.
"It was an unlucky thing that happened to me yesterday. I made a wrong movement and I blocked my back. I stopped my practice straightaway, and my physio worked on it, they unblocked my back.
"Still the muscle gets super tight when you make a wrong movement. This morning was better. I took some medications, as well, when I went out at 3-0, and the doctor said to give it a try and see.
"It's such a long story. I played out there for three hours, and I was just trying to find a way. It was nothing too dangerous, but when you block your back, everything is super tight and you cannot really rotate and hit the serve normally. I just dug in there. I really don't know how I managed that.
"What they are saying is that it's nothing serious, and since it happened to me in the past, and hopefully in the next 48 hours should be fine."
Fighting through the second set, Mladenovic trailed 0-3 early in the decider before winning four straight games to put herself in front for the first time in the match.
"I thought I was out of the tournament. The second set gave me a bit more mental strength, and I thought, 'I'm going to fight for this one. We'll see what's going to happen during the third set.' Then when it was 2-0, it was a bad game, one of the very last points, I wasn't feeling good at all."
Brady has proven herself more than formidable after reaching the Round of 16 at the Australian Open, and not only broke straight back but also broke serve the first two times the French star served for the match.
"I don't know. It's point after point. I was fighting, struggling, fighting. I thought, it's just a break. And then after this, it was like a small marathon until the end of the match."
Mladenovic ultimately got the job done after nearly three hours on court, striking 45 winners to 48 unforced errors to book her spot in the second round.
The road won't get easier, however, as she's slated to face one of the most dangerous qualifiers around in Sara Errani, who reached the French Open final back in 2012.
"C'est la vie," Mladenovic told French press. "It's life. Of course, I was very frustrated and disappointed yesterday. And now, I'm shaken, because emotionally it was so big to manage my emotions.
"I have succeeded. I won the first round. Emotionally it was so hard. It was a three-hour match. Given the ambition that I have, it was difficult for me to start off this way on center court, but I'm so happy to have won the match."