It was a day of mixed fortunes for Grand Slam champions at the French Open on Saturday.
The reigning Wimbledon champion, Garbiñe Muguruza, saw off Sam Stosur, a former French Open finalist and US Open champion, in no uncertain terms, while Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit pulled off a major surprise in dispatching Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion.
Muguruza positively burst out of the blocks to win the first eight games of the opening contest on Philippe Chatrier before Stosur held serve for the only time in the match and broke the Spaniard to love in the fourth game of the second set to level at 2-all.
I knew this would be very tough against a former US Open winner and a player who has made the final here, If I didn't play my best tennis, I realised that it would be very hard. Garbine Muguruza
It was short-lived revival as the Australian suffered one of her most humiliating losses of her Grand Slam career at the hands of the 2016 French Open champion, 6-0 6-2.
The Spaniard, who is seeded 3 for the title, showed no mercy and quickly restored order when the going got briefly tougher, winning the next four games to seal her third-round rout in an hour and two minutes.
Stosur, a three-time French Open semi-finalist, needed to be at her best to have any hope of defeating the two time Grand Slam champion, but her game deserted her.
The 34-year-old managed to land just 56 percent of her first serves and coughed up 20 unforced errors to just 6 winners for the match, while Muguruza fired 15 winners against 9 blips.
The graceful Spaniard raced through the first set and, although she was broken in the fourth game of the second, she won the next four games in a row to wrap up the match.
“I knew this would be very tough against a former US Open winner and a player who has made the final here,” said 24-year-old Muguruza. “If I didn’t play my best tennis, I realised that it would be very hard.
“Coming back here to Court Philippe Chatrier where I won two years ago always brings special feelings inside me.”
The Spaniard goes on to face Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, who knocked out Slovakian 19th seed Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-2 6-4.
Tsurenko has reached the last 16 in Paris for the first time, equalling her best run at a major at the 2016 US Open.
Third match up on Chatrier was Maria Sharapova, who thrashed Karolina Pliskova to set up potential clash with Serena Williams in the last 16.
Sharapova, who is seeded No 28, marched ominously into the fourth round with a straight-sets demolition of the 6th seeded Czech in just 59 minutes, 6-2 6-1.
The five-time Grand Slam champion simply blew Pliskova away, converting half of the 10 break-point opportunities that she earned in a dominant display.
Sharapova will renew her rivalry with Williams if the 23-time major winner comes through her match against Julia Goerges later in the day.
The powerful Russian, champion at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014, struck 18 winners to the Czech’s five and made only 19 unforced errors.
“This was my match to win. I wanted to perform well. I played smart and did the right things.” the 31-year-old said.
Sharapova was denied a French Open wildcard last year following her return from a 15-month ban for failing a drugs test.
“I improved quite a lot in this match from my first two rounds. I had to. I didn’t really have a choice against a player like her,” reflected Sharapova, having secured hard-fought victories over Richel Hogenkamp and Donna Vekic so far in Paris.
“I guess these are the types of occasions where you want to play really good, solid tennis against a top-10 player that’s been playing extremely well.
“When you’re able to deliver that on a Grand Slam stage, I think it makes it extra special.”
In the battle of the former World No 1s, it was Pliskova who stole an instant break, pouncing on the short ball to then arrow a backhand passing shot down the line.
Sharapova sharply found her range and relentless returns arcing onto the baseline sent the Stuttgart champion and Madrid semi-finalist off balance.
Within 16 minutes the Russian had accelerated to a 4-1 lead, her punchy one-two strokes doing the damage.
At 2-1 Sharapova clinched the pivotal break in the second set, hot on the heels of an errant smash from Pliskova, then connecting with a rasping backhand return winner.
“I thought I did a really good job of being aggressive on the return, giving her different looks on the return. I was solid. I played smart. I think I did the right things,” declared the Russian. “I was aggressive on the break points, I went for it. I took the match rather than her giving it to me.”
The surprise loss of the day was that of the World No 8, although it did nothing to deter an upbeat Petra Kvitova.
The Czech eighth seed crashed out of the tournament on Saturday following a tight 7-6(6) 7-6(4) loss to Anett Kontaveit.
In both sets Kvitova had a break advantage, but failed to tame her Estonian rival, who will play in the fourth round of a major for only the third time in her career.
Prior to Saturday, Kvitova was on a 13-match winning streak after claiming titles in Prague and Madrid.
“She returned pretty well today. But on the other hand, I didn’t really serve as I wanted.” Kvitova said during her press conference.
“I knew that she was putting every return back, so that’s why I was probably risking my serve. That’s probably why I made some double faults as well.”
“A lot of credit to her. Anett played great tennis today. She didn’t really give me anything.” Kvitova later added.
Roland Garros marks the one-year anniversary of Kvitova’s comeback from a knife attack, an incident that resulted in the 28-year-old missing six months of the tour after undergoing four hours of surgery to repair the damage done to her left playing hand.
Since coming back, she has managed to climb her way back into the world’s top 10 and was a favourite for the title at Roland Garros due to her surge in success this year.
On the tour, she has already won four WTA titles, more than any other player so far this season in the women’s game, and two of those trophies were claimed on the clay.
It is an impressive record considering Kvitova has only ever won four titles on the dirt since her professional debut back in 2007.
“I couldn’t really imagine myself playing so well on the clay. So I’m very proud of myself. I didn’t really think that I will able to do what I did, winning two titles, playing good tennis here [at Roland Garros],” She said.
“For me, it was a great clay season. And I’m pretty sad that the clay season is finishing, but, I’m pretty happy about my clay season.”
Kvitova’s conqueror is by no means an outsider on the tour and at 22-years old, Kontaveit has achieved some high-profile wins in recent months by getting the better of such players as Caroline Wozniacki, Coco Vandeweghe and Venus Williams, twice.
She is currently at a ranking high of 24th in the world and, following her win over Kvitova, she is now 29-8 (78%) on clay and grass since Rome last year with 5 top 10 wins.
Known for her positive approach to life on the draw, Kvitova sees a silver lining is her latest loss today.
“I think sometimes you just need to play with your heart, which I did today.” She said.
“I think that hopefully for the future, it will help me, as well, build the confidence and everything you need for the game. It’s one of the most important things in the tennis, which I think I did today, even if I lost.”
“Of course, I’m pretty sad, but, on the other hand, I’m very happy about everything in the life. I hope that can help me on the grass and for the future.”
Kvitova will start her grass season at the Birmingham International, while Kontaveit faces Sloane Stephens in the fourth round at the French Open.
Stephens had to cling on for dear life for her survival, eventually pulling off a 4-6 6-1 8-6 victory over Italian Camila Giorgi.
The American 10th seed had dropped just six games in her previous two matches and stepped onto a sunbathed Court 18 holding a perfect record against Italian opponents at majors, but such statistics mattered little to Giorgi and she left Stephens yelling ‘What the hell’s going on?’ after breaking her to go 6-5 up in the final set.
Giorgi came into the contest knowing she had the game to trouble Stephens, having won their last two encounters in straight sets, and it was no different on Saturday as she served for the match at 5-4 and again at 6-5.
Stephens held her nerve to break back on both occasions and was mightily relieved when she saw Giorgi’s backhand zip beyond the baseline on her first match point after a long and gruelling battle that lasted two hours 26 minutes.
Elsewhere, Daria Gavrilova was beaten by 16th seed Elise Mertens to end Australian interest in the French Open singles.
The Australian No 2, seeded 24th, was outplayed by the Belgian, who won 6-3 6-1 in 62 minutes on Court 7.
After saving a match point in the previous round, having battled back from a set and a service break down in her opener, Gavrilova was unable to reproduce such heroics against Mertens, one of the dark horses for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
As well as her charge to the last four in Melbourne, where she also beat Gavrilova, the Belgian has already won three titles in 2018 and chalked up 12 straight victories on clay this season.
The 16th seed needed barely an hour to dispatch Gavrilova for the second year in a row and end Australia’s hopes of a first champion in Paris since Margaret Court reigned for a fifth and final time in 1973.