2009 Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova held off a late surge from the always dangerous Zhang Shuai to book her spot in the second week at the French Open.
WTA Staff

PARIS, France - No.8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova survived a tense encounter with No.32 seed Zhang Shuai to advance, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-5, and reach the fourth round at Roland Garros.

"I'm satisfied with my effort because on days like these, you have to survive somehow," she said after the match. "I felt like I was playing horribly, my focus was going in and out, because I overused it in past days for different things. These influenced my mind and made me less than 100% into the game today.

"Life isn't only tennis, and sometimes negative things can affect you. I'm just happy I survived, and I'm over it, getting stronger and stronger. That's the most important thing."

Kuznetsova was made to work hard to earn her 52nd match win on the terre battue, battling past the 2016 Australian Open quarterfinalist after three hours and nine minutes on court.

"My biggest trouble is that this tournament is too special to me. Every match here is so emotional, and hopefully my next match won't be too much like that. I pray every day that I can go out, play my game, and leave the emotions in the basket.

"But if I did that, I wouldn't be me. In Russia, we say, 'this is the cross I have to carry for the rest of my days.' This is how I am.

"At this stage of my career, I should be able to let some of the emotions go, and say, 'Hey, I won here already.' In other tournaments, I can do it, but it's Paris. I'm playing my favorite tournament and I couldn't even play 60% of my game. That was really frustrating."

Surpassing Martina Navratilova and lands one win shy of tying Maria Sharapova, the Russian saved a set point after being up a break to start the match to turn the tables on Zhang in the ensuing tiebreak, racing out to a 5-1 lead and never looking back.

Through Zhang's career renaissance at the start of last season, clay has remained a weak point, but that didn't stop the 28-year-old from immediately breaking serve to start the second set, eventually breaking serve twice more to level the match.

"My opponent played great. She was able to go for her shots and played amazingly in the end. I had to pull the trigger somehow, from a very difficult position, when the water was already above my head!"

Kuznetsova needed three sets to get past an inspired Océane Dodin in the second round, and was clearly prepared for another battle as the final set got underway, taking a 3-0 lead and holding a pair of match points as she served for her place in the fourth round.

"I get physically better after long matches, but I was relieved to find out I didn't have to play doubles tomorrow. I have a day off, and so I'm sure I'll be ready again. Matches like these get me going even better."

Zhang saved both in an emotionally charged conclusion and clawed back to 5-5 before the Russian ultimately closed the door at the end of one last grueling rally.

"I give her a lot of respect; she's a really nice girl, and has amazing potential. I was going on and off like a Duracell battery that's sputtering. In the end, she had nothing to lose and started to play amazing. I had to really beat a tough opponent in the end."

In all, Kuznetsova overcame 63 unforced errors with 35 winners and coverted five of nine break points, edging over the finish line despite winning four fewer points than Zhang (125 to 121).

"I'm creative. I play from my heart and with my emotions, and this is what makes me unstable," a wry Kuznetsova noted. "It's true! I have bad moods, bad days, and this is what happens. I can't fight it because it's not possible.

"At the moment, I almost like hardcourts better because having fewer options is better for me, and helps me think more clearly."

Up next for the 2009 champion is either former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki or surging American teenager CiCi Bellis, who lead the Dane 5-2 in the second set after losing the first when play was suspended due to rain and darkness.