Britain’s Harriet Dart, seeded 31st in the qualifying draw, is one win away from making the main draw of the French Open at Roland Garros after beating Romanian Gabriela Tala, winning 6-3 2-6 6-3, and joining Vera Zvonareva, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Ana Konjuh in the final round.
Yeah I definitely think it’s different this time around. Last year was my first qualies here. The previous year I had my foot in a boot and then, 2018, I was one spot out and didn’t get in. I’m getting more comfortable on clay now, especially after lots of matches in two weeks on it in the States, albeit different on green and red clay. It’s about adjusting and I’m slowly finding my feet, which I’m really pleased about. Harriet Dart
The 24-year old took the first set after breaking Tala 4 times in a contest where neither player’s serve was secure.
The Romanian hit back by taking the second, and appeared to be on course for the win when she led 3-2 in the decider, but Dart rallied herself to reel off 4 successive games and claimed victory, setting up a meeting with World No 243 Liang En-shuo from Taiwan.
Dart has featured in the main draw at the other 3 Grand Slams and feels this could be the year she finally makes it in Paris.
“Yeah I definitely think it’s different this time around,” Dart said. “Last year was my first qualies here.
“The previous year I had my foot in a boot and then, 2018, I was one spot out and didn’t get in.
“I’m getting more comfortable on clay now, especially after lots of matches in two weeks on it in the States, albeit different on green and red clay.
“It’s about adjusting and I’m slowly finding my feet, which I’m really pleased about.”
It would ‘mean everything’ to the 31st seed, who takes on Liang to book a main draw berth, and the Brit hopes to reap the rewards from hard yards training in Belgrade.
“It’s hugely inspiring. My coach is based at the Tipsarevic Academy,” added Dart, after some practice with former World No 8 Janko Tipsarevic.
“It’s amazing, he has so much experience, knows exactly how you feel, so it’s great to absorb all that.”
Both Liang, the 2018 Australian Open girls’ champion, and 2018 US Open girls’ champion Wang Xiyu progressed in straight sets, overcoming subpar recent form to do so.
Liang came into Paris with a 0-4 record on clay this year, but is now into the final qualifying round of a Grand Slam for the first time after a 7-6(9) 6-4 defeat of American Asia Muhammad.
The 20-year-old from Chinese Taipei came from 3-5 down in the first set and saved 3 set points in the ensuing tiebreak, two with superb forehand winners.
Wang’s season record before Paris was just 6-10 overall, but she dominated with her power for a 6-0 6-3 win over Mayo Hibi as the Chinese 20-year-old struck 28 winners and never lost her serve.
Two in-form former Top 30 players will battle for one spot in the Roland Garros main draw on Thursday after top seed Zvonareva dispatched Mariam Bolkvadze, 6-3 6-1 in a hour 17 minutes, and No 18 seed Schmiedlova moved past Tamara Korpatsch, 6-0 6-4 in an hour 41 minutes.
Both are coming off fine results over the past month, with Russia’s former World No 2, Zvonareva, scoring her first Top 10 win on clay in 11 years over Petra Kvitova in Rome, while former World No 26 Schmiedlova from Slovakia defeated Venus Williams in Parma last week.
Osorio Serrano twice found herself down a break to former World No 94 Richel Hogenkamp from the Netherlands early in the first set, but once the Colombian had found her groove, she dominated for a 6-4 6-0 win, taking the last 8 games of the match.
“I know last year wasn’t my best performance, I feel I have a lot more matches in my bag,” said the 19-year-old, reflecting on a first-hurdle exit in qualifying at Roland-Garros 2020.
“I’ve played a lot of tournaments at the WTA Tour, so I feel more confidence when I walk onto the court. I’m not scared anymore when I’m playing this level. So it’s good, I’m enjoying all I’m doing.”
The winner of Bogota in April, Osorio Serrano has risen to World No 98, cracking the top 100 for the first time.
“It’s been a really special time for me because I’ve worked really hard to get here,” she added.
“It was really nice I broke into the top 100, it was one of my goals at the beginning of the year. It’s all come so fast, I didn’t think I could do this until the end of the season, but it shows how much I’m improving.
“But I know from now on the matches are going to be really tough, all of them are going to be like finals. I’ll just try to do my best as always.”
She now needs to get past the tricky Monica Niculescu from Romania, who dispatched French wild-card Carole Monnet, 6-3 6-4.
Konjuh, the Belgrade finalist from Croatia, overcame a lapse to take out No 4 seed Timea Babos, 6-3 7-5, erasing a 1-4 second-set deficit en route, and takes on Slovakia’s Rebecca Sramkova next, who beat Italy’s Martina Di Giuseppe, 7-6(5) 6-4.
Another Romanian, Jaqueline Cristian, upset Egypt’s Mayar Sherif, the No 13 seed, in probaly the best match of the day, featuring fight-backs, emotion and great tennis.
Ultimately, Cristian prevailed, 7-5 5-7 7-6(1), in 3 hours 3 minutes, the longest match of the qualifying rounds so far.
Cristian, who reached her first WTA quarter-final this March in St Petersburg, had the upper hand as she advanced to a 5-3 second-set lead and held 2 match points serving for the match, but Sherif saved both, the first with a superb backhand pass at full stretch, and seized the momentum to force the decider.
Sherif, who became the first Egyptian woman to compete in a Grand Slam main draw at Roland Garros last year, continued to hang on as Cristian built a 3-0 double-break lead in the third set, but the Egyptian levelled at 5-5 to stop the Romanian from serving out the win a second time.
To the 22-year-old’s credit, Cristian found the tennis she needed to prevent Sherif from completing the comeback and in the deciding tiebreak, she came up with a high backhand volley and a backhand crosscourt winner to take control.
No 10 seed Tsvetana Pironkova from Bulgaria was also eliminated, by Susan Bandecchi, who is playing in her first-ever Grand Slam qualifying event.
The Swiss stunned the former Wimbledon semi-finalist, 6-4 2-6 6-3, winning the final 6 games of the match from 0-3 down.
Pironkova made a stellar return to tennis at last year’s US Open, where she reached the quarter-finals after 3 years of inactivity and qualified for both 2020 Roland Garros and the 2021 Australian Open.
Bandecchi is currently ranked at a career-high World No 219 and playing in her first Tour-level qualifying draw.
Another seed to fall on Wednesday was Italy’s Sara Errani, who was taken out by 29-year-old Nuria Parrizas Diaz from Spain, 4-6 6-4 6-2.
The No 5 seed is a former Roland Garros finalist while Parrizas Diaz has been plugging away on the ITF World Tour for a decade and is now enjoying a career surge and competed in her first WTA-level qualifying event at the 2020 Australian Open.
This year, she went on a 16-match winning streak in February and March as she collected ITF W25 titles in Potchefstroom, South Africa, and Manacor, Spain, and then made the quarter-finals of Bogota in April on her WTA main draw debut.
Here, the fine angles the Spaniard found on her forehand were key to hitting through Errani’s indefatigable defence and will play Ekaterine Gorgodze from Georgia, who edged Bulgaria’s Elitsa Kostova, 7-6(5 6-3, in the final qualifying round.
Canada’s Carol Zhao also moved closer to a spot in the main draw with a 7-5 6-2 win over Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova on Wednesday and will face Spain’s Lara Arruabarrena on Friday.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who lost to Liang in the 2018 Australian Open junior semi-finals, also won a late match on Wednesday.
The No 9 seed ousted America’s Francesca Di Lorenzo, 7-6(3) 6-0, in an hour and a half.
In the final completed match of the day, Russia’s Anastasia Gasanova defeated former World No 9 CoCo Vandeweghe from the USA, 6-2 5-7 6-2, in just under 2 hours of play.
Vandeweghe was a semi-finalist at the 2 hardcourt majors in 2017, but her Roland Garros record is spotty, with just 3 trips to the 2nd round as her best result.
As the American continues her return from injuries, she was unable to get past the Russian, who is having a breakthrough season.
Gasanova started the year by stunning Karolina Pliskova in Abu Dhabi for her first Top 10 win, and then charged into her first WTA quarter-final on home soil in St Petersburg.
Now in her first-ever Grand Slam qualifying event, Gasanova converted 7 of her 10 break points to reach the final round of qualifying.