PARIS, France - On the Eighth Day of Roland Garros, things got loud. Very loud. And the French crowd was the star of the show.
The French crowd is tennis' "6th Man."
It was hard not to feel for Garbiñe Muguruza on Sunday, as her title defense was ended by an inspired Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the Round of 16. Of the top seeds in Paris, Muguruza got the toughest draw of them all, having to open against former champion Francesca Schiavone, navigate from a set and a break down to a red-hot Anett Kontaveit, and fend off a feisty Yulia Putintseva, a quarterfinalist here last year, just to make the second week.
But Muguruza's toughest opponent turned out to be invisible on the draw sheet. There is no secret to the French crowd at Roland Garros. They back their own, they are loud, and once they take a position in a match, they are unrelenting. They side with their French players, their fellow French-speakers, underdogs, and flashy game-styles -- in that order -- and Mladenovic checks every one of those boxes.
After looking like the dominant player in the second set, Muguruza fell behind an early break right out of the gate in the decider and Mladenovic was able to hold on. As the tension mounted, the crowd got louder, and Muguruza's calm and contained disposition began to show cracks, which only seemed to encourage the partisan crowd even more.
"I think the crowd today was a little bit obviously tough for me," a visibly disappointed Muguruza said. "I understand. I just think that they sometimes should be a little bit more respectful, even [during] the games, because we had to stop [because of the noise]. The chair umpire had to always calm the crowd down. I'm not here to create enemies. I mean, I love playing here."
The support, of course, cuts both ways.
"I'm French. I'm playing at home. Obviously they are excited," Mladenovic said. "The atmosphere was just amazing, I thought, which is not easy to handle for both of us. I mean it's lots of pressure. Even for me, even if I had like a thousand people screaming and cheering up for me, it's not easy to control the nerves and the pressure and everything.
"I could also hear all those exactly same thousands of people being so down when I would double fault. So it's not easy to concentrate and keep the confidence up and to keep it up.
"But it's part of the sport. It's amazing to play in such a great stage with such an atmosphere, because at the end of the day, from my opinion, it's sport, it's a show. We try to show our best tennis, to entertain people, to show out there some fight, some emotion. And I think that's how it should be. Kind of beauty of a great match like that."
To Mladenovic's credit - and the credit of her compatriots Alizé Cornet and Caroline Garcia who also made it into the second week - the French women have handled the home pressure with aplomb this year. The crowd even nearly helped Océane Dodin get over the line against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round, a match in which Kuznetsova nearly let the crowd get to her.
There are years when that home support has been too much for the players to handle. Home court "advantage" can work very differently in tennis. In other sports, teams often play 50% of their games and matches at home. In tennis, if you're lucky and you come from a nation that hosts tournaments, it happens a handful of times a year. The pressure can be crippling - just ask Samantha Stosur or some of the Brits.
This year the Frenchwomen are writing a different story for themselves. There will be two Frenchwomen into the quarterfinals in Paris for the first time since 1994. Could this be the year the French end their 17-year title drought at Roland Garros?
Enjoy it while you can, Timea.
It's not just about the flag, for the French fans. They'll throw their support behind the lingua franca as well. Timea Bacsinszky, who hails from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, certainly felt the love on Sunday as the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier chanted her name as she secured a win over Venus Williams, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to advance to her third straight quarterfinal at Roland Garros.
"It was kind of insane for me, like hearing my name many times and pretty loudly in the crowd," Bacsinszky said. "I felt really touched and honored.
"As a tennis player, you dream of playing on big courts, but in my country, obviously you don't have any Grand Slams. It's special, because you know that there's never going to be such a big tennis event in your own country. At one of the Grand Slams, one of the four Grand Slams, you hear your name, so loud, it's something insane. I would have never imagined that in my whole life.
"You work hard for these moments. You're privileged to be able to play on these courts. It's an honor, and it's honor to have so many people cheering for me like I had today. So I don't know why or how this bond was made, but it felt really special today. And I know it's not going to be the same for my next match.
Yeah...probably not. Bacsinszky plays Mladenovic for a spot in the semifinals.
Karolina Pliskova is three wins from No.1.
The No.2 seed admits she has not even come close to playing her best tennis in Paris, but she is into the second week at a Slam for the third straight time. That's an impressive turnaround considering the Czech never made it past the third round at any Slam before the US Open last year, where she went on to make the final.
Pliskova chalks it up to her newfound confidence, knowing that she does not have to play perfect tennis to navigate through the first week at Slams. The toughest aspect of her first three matches has been playing players she is less familiar with, in Zheng Saisai, Ekaterina Alexandrova, and Carina Witthoeft. She gets another unfamiliar foe next, in Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg.
The only seed Pliskova can face en route to the semifinal in Paris is No.28 Caroline Garcia. If Pliskova makes the final - which would be a feat considering her lack of comfort on clay - she will take over the No.1 ranking from Angelique Kerber.
There will be a first-time major champion in Paris.
With Sunday's losses by Venus Williams, Garbiñe Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Samantha Stosur, we are guaranteed a first-time Slam winner next Saturday. With the quarterfinals set in the top-half of the draw (the Round of 16 for the bottom half will be played Monday) one of these four women will make their first French Open final: Caroline Wozniacki, Kristina Mladenovic, Timea Bacsinszky, or Jelena Ostapenko.
Quote of the Day: Take it away, Timea! (Is this the Swiss version of "trash talk?")
"But of course everyone knows Swiss cheese is so much better than French cheese, and that Gruyere cheese does not have holes. You call it Emmental. You are imposters. Gruyere is a place in Switzerland with a castle there. It's a region. In the Canton of Fribourg. It's a very pretty place."