The World No.1 Simona Halep is growing in confidence, as evidenced by her crisp dismissal of Belgium’s Elise Mertens to secure her appointed place at the head of the four quarter-final slots at the French Open.
The World No.2, Caroline Wozniacki, however, faltered abruptly in her campaign to secure a second Grand Slam title, losing at the hands of Daria Kasatkina.
I’m really happy. It is a dream come true to play on this court. It has been my dream since I was a child, so I’m really happy to be here. Daria Kasatkina
Despite her defeat, Wozniacki could still return to the top ranking should Halep fall in the last-eight and Garbiñe Muguruza fails to make the final.
Saved by fading light the night before, there was no escape for the second seed on Monday as she lost 7-6(5) 6-3 in the French Open fourth round to the precocious Russian.
Resuming at 3-all in the second set in brilliant sunshine, Kasatkina sped to victory, ending Wozniacki’s hopes of usurping Halep as World No.1.
Any hopes Australian Open champion Wozniacki harboured that her 21-year-old opponent’s level would dip on the resumption proved fanciful.
It was all over in a matter of minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier, as Kasatkina rattled off the three games she needed to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final.
“She’s a tough opponent,” the Dane said later. “She played really well, and I think yesterday could have gone either way, as well.
“I think the clay, for sure, is her surface. Any slow surface, I think, suits her, because, you know, obviously she tries to slow the pace down.
“She doesn’t give you two of the same balls, so she changes the pace. But she tries to slow it down, and then, once she has the opportunity, she’s going to go in and hit one really hard and then slow it down again.
“I think the slower the surface is, the better for her. She has very good hands and good angles and everything, so I think that suits her.”
it is difficult to call the result an upset since Kasatkina, one of the most creative and versatile players in the women’s game, already had defeated Wozniacki twice this season on hard courts.
The first victory came in February in the quarter-finals of the St. Petersburg Open in Russia, where Wozniacki was still recovering from jet lag and the aftermath of winning her first Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne, but the last two victories, in the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open and at Roland Garros, have come with Wozniacki fully rested and prepared.
“I’m really happy. It is a dream come true to play on this court [Philippe Chatrier],” Kasatkina said after the match. “It has been my dream since I was a child, so I’m really happy to be here.”.
She then said that reaching her first Slam quarter-final was such a shock that she almost left herself homeless in Paris.
Despite being assured of $380,000 euros ($445,000) by reaching the last-eight, the World No.14 had only booked accommodation until Tuesday.
“My house which I rent expired today, and I have to change to the hotel,” she revealed.
“I was renting it until June 5 and today we decided to move so not to do it on a match day. We are moving to the hotel. It is what it is.”
She added: “I booked it through Airbnb. So you have to pay in advance. And you never know what is going to happen and if you are in the middle of the second week it’s fine to go to the hotel — I’m not complaining.”
Awaiting her in the last eight at Roland Garros will be US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
“I think whoever I play, it will be an interesting matchup.” Stephens said following her fourth round win on Sunday.
The upcoming match will be Kasatkina’s third meeting with Stephens. Their head-to-head is currently tied at 1-1, with the American winning their latest clash in straight sets at Indian Wells earlier this year.
As for Halep, the Romanian is still looking for her first maiden Grand Slam victory after finishing as runner up here in 2014 and 2017, and she blazed into the quarters by crushing Belgian Mertens, 6-2 6-1, showing her full array of weapons in the process, and tightening her grip on the No.1 mantle.
Kicking off proceedings on Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday, Halep became the first player to find her place with an emphatic victory over the 16th seed.
The Romanian was on song from the outset and it took her just 59 minutes of play, breaking Mertens six times, hitting 16 winners and landing 75% of her first serves for the match, to reach the quarters for the third time in the past five years.
A lengthy, six-deuce third game of the opening set on Mertens’ serve helped Halep secure the first break of the match, and a lead she would never relinquish over the course of the two sets.
The top seed ran off eight straight games in the middle of the match, and never faced break point until she served for the bagel in the second set.
Although the Belgian delivered one of her best games of the match to get on the board by sealing her first and only break, she was unable to shake the inconsistency that had plagued her throughout, and could extend the match no longer.
Mertens struck 22 unforced errors to just 13 winners in the match overall, and handed Halep the victory with her fourth double fault.
She had entered the tournament having won two second-tier events on clay including 16 wins and one defeat, albeit against Halep last month in Madrid when she was comprehensively beaten.
“It was not that easy, she is a tough opponent,” said Halep. “I was a bit nervous at the start of the match but I played my best match here at Roland Garros.
“I think it was a great match, and the way I played gives me confidence that I did everything well until now. It’s never easy to play against her.
“I played in Madrid and I felt that she’s very aggressive. She wants to play fast, so I think today I did the same thing.
“I was a little bit stronger in the important moments. Those four games at the beginning were really important, and after that I relax myself and I could play a little bit better.
“I need to be more aggressive and try to finish the points because I don’t hit so many winners.
“I don’t know how the other players are before the matches, but I think I am very nervous before every match, and this is because I am like this.
“So I’m not going to fight with myself about that. But I try to improve this thing, and I try to enjoy my nerves, because they are special when you play in a Grand Slam.”
For a place in the semi-finals, Halep will next face the No 12 seed, Angelique Kerber, who dispatched the 7th-seeded French No 1 Caroline Garcia in what was a mostly pedestrian match.
Kerber knocked out Garcia in straight sets in less than an hour on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
Seven French hopefuls entered the third-round fray across the singles draws, but only Garcia had remained, adamant that flying the French flag was not a burden.
“I don’t think it’s going to put much pressure on me,” she said ahead of her encounter with two-time Grand Slam champion Kerber., who has been cruising under the radar in Paris.
Something got to her, however, because the last Frenchwoman standing, who reached the quarter-final here in Paris last year, couldn’t replicate the result against the resurgent German, falling 6-2 6-3.
It could have been that Kerber held a 4-2 overall winning record, with, significantly, their last encounter resulting in a 6-1 6-1 thrashing in the Californian desert at Indian Wells, that evidently still hurt.
“It was a terrible loss,” admitted Garcia, 24. “She’s playing way better this year. Last year she had a complicated year, but she managed to finish top 20 so that means she’s still a great player.”
Garcia says she prefers not to play her matches on the Court Philippe Chatrier as the stadium is huge and adds pressure on home players.
“Philippe Chatrier is different from all the other courts, it’s huge on the side so it’s changing all the perception you have,” Garcia said. “It’s a court I was watching on TV when I was 10, 15, so I dreamt to be there and now I am, that’s why it was complicated for me.
“But last year I won a very important match against Alize [Cornet], so I think I’m more experienced now. But of course it’s always difficult to start your first round match on a big court and with fans cheering and everything.”
Although she is the top-ranked Frenchwoman and is ranked in the world’s Top 10, Garcia is not as famous face in France as one might expect as yet.
“I took a flight from Lyon to Paris and I think one person recognised me only,” she admitted.
It was a disappointingly slow start for the Frenchwoman on the blustery Court Suzanne Lenglen in front of an unusually quiet French crowd.
The German immediately got to grips with the challenging conditions, a drive volley from Garcia looped long, enabling an instant break and Kerber rattling though consecutive holds to love from 2-1.
Garcia couldn’t contend with the relentless consistency arriving over the net and a crunching serve-backhand combination helped ignite a 5-1 lead, before the 30-year-old Kerber clinched the opening set within half an hour.
Trying to lift their player, the ardent French crowd began cheering every point Garcia gained, but Kerber clinched the pivotal break by connecting with a cannonball cross-court backhand passing shot to race 3-1 ahead in the second.
Serving at 1-5, Garcia relinquished four successive points from 40-0 up, then fended off four match points to force Kerber into a bigger fight.
With the pressure seemingly lifted, Garcia swung more freely and cut a deft drop shot to chalk up another game, but Kerber would not be denied as the home hope’s 37th unforced error halted any possibility of a magical comeback.
Kerber only hit 11 winners but Garcia made 36 unforced errors, meaning the German was never under too much pressure.
Her reward for such a ruthless display is a potentially pulsating quarter-final clash with World No 1 Simona Halep, who earlier dispatched 16th seed Elise Mertens in just 59 minutes.
“I’m happy to be through, she has played really well in the last few months,” Kerber said of Garcia, who had reached the quarter-finals last year.
“I started really well today but it got a bit jittery towards the end,” admitted the 30-year-old Kerber. “The next round won’t be any easier but I’ll try to win and see how far the journey can go.”
With the victory, Kerber has reached the quarters or better at all but one of the eight tournaments she has played in 2018.
Monday’s result also equals her best-ever showing at Roland Garros, having previously reached the quarter-finals here in 2012 before falling to eventual finalist Sara Errani.