LONDON, Great Britain -- Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic pulled off a scintillating comeback victory over No.21 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, fighting back from a 6-4, 5-2 deficit to collect a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory and move into the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the second time in her career.
"I was nearly out," Strycova said in her post-match press conference. "I managed to pull it through. It feels great."
"This is my 17th Wimbledon, so I just said to myself, 'Okay, I'll try to enjoy every single moment on the court, and every match I play and every match I win, it's a bonus for me,'" the Czech veteran stated. "So I'm looking at it this way, and it really helps me not to put so much pressure on myself. I enjoy it even."
The 33-year-old Czech needed two hours and 21 minutes to execute the turnaround, leveling her head-to-head record against Mertens at 1-1. Strycova came back from the brink of defeat to claim revenge over Mertens, who had knocked the veteran out of last year’s US Open in the third round.
Strycova returns to the elite eight at Wimbledon five years after her heretofore lone Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance, when she reached the 2014 Wimbledon quarterfinals before falling to compatriot and eventual champion Petra Kvitova. The forward-thinking Czech won 30 of 39 points when she ventured to the net.
"I am approaching the quarterfinals a little bit different [than 2014]," said Strycova. "I was so excited there. So I'm very happy now, but I know that I have to keep focused still and save some energy, because I also have doubles. I'm happy, but I'm still in the draw and I want to go as far as I can."
Mertens, who picked up the biggest title of her career in February by beating Simona Halep in the Doha final, had a chance to reach her second Grand Slam quarterfinal, having also made it all the way to the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2018. But Mertens won only half of her first-service points and was broken six times, while converting just four of her 10 break points.
In the quarterfinals, Strycova will face British home hope Johanna Konta, after the No.19 seed overcame two-time Wimbledon champion and No.6 seed Petra Kvitova on Centre Court later on Monday. Strycova won their only previous meeting, in two close sets on the hardcourts of Tokyo in 2017.
"[The atmosphere] will be against me," said Strycova, looking forward to a clash with Konta. "But I really don't mind. I like these kind of matches and playing on big courts. That's why I train for it. That's why I am here. I will try to enjoy myself."
Strycova used her guile to garner the first significant lead of the match, carving her way to a service break for 3-2 with dropshots, angles, and a wicked forehand passing winner on break point. Mertens, however, quickly struck back, using tremendous defense to extend points before finding down-the-line winners to earn a break of her own and level the first set at 3-3.
Mertens blasted through her next two service games, winning eight of nine points within them, to stay ahead at 5-4. Mertens then got her chance to pull off a one-set lead after errors by Strycova gave the Belgian double set point. On the second of two, Strycova unexpectedly punched an errant backhand volley into the net, and Mertens collected the opening frame.
The Belgian seemed to be easing to victory when she earned a 4-2 lead in the second set after a beautiful backhand passing winner on break point. Strycova, though, held for 5-3 at love, forcing Mertens to close out the match on her own serve. Suddenly, Mertens faltered, firing errors and allowing Strycova to pull back on serve at 5-4 after a quick service break.
Strycova grabbed her lifeline with gusto, and her vaunted volleys became even more pristine, as she held for 5-5. The Czech kept up her aggressive play, and charged to the net en route to another break of Mertens, and a chance to serve out the set. Strycova kept punching her volleys with aplomb, and used one more to win a fifth straight game, and had the second set in hand.
"I closed myself [off]," Strycova said, about her attitude during her second-set comeback. "I didn't really focus on my team. I felt like there is no one on the court. Just me and the ball," she said with a smile.
An enthused Strycova continued to play brilliantly in the forecourt in the decider, and she broke Mertens twice in succession to open the final set, punctuating her 3-0 lead with a backhand volley winner.
Mertens took an off-court medical time-out after that game, but upon the Belgian's return, Strycova kept rolling, holding with ease to polish off a ninth straight game and reach 4-0. Mertens finally held to get on the board at 4-1, but continued to have the trainer work on her back during the remainder of the final set.
Strycova remained steely for the rest of the clash, with only a slight hiccup as she fell behind 0-30 while serving for the match at 5-2. But the Czech used great serves to extricate herself from that predicament and reach her first match point at 40-30. There, Strycova ended a rally with a backhand dropshot winner, and she collapsed to the ground in joy after earning the comeback win.