Getting through 3 rounds of qualifying at a major is an accomplishment in itself, as Renata Zarazua, who became the first Mexican woman in a Grand Slam main draw in 20 years, and Mayar Sherif, the first Egyptian woman ever, will testify as they attained significant milestones in their careers at Roland Garros in Paris on Friday.
It was really tough to close the match. I’m proud to be back. I’ve always had the passion for tennis to drive me on. Things in your life can distract you, but now I’m strong. I’ve played so many matches here and I can’t wait for another. Sara Errani
As main draw qualifiers, they are joined by teenagers Marta Kostyuk, Clara Tauson and Kamilla Rakhimova, plus familiar faces Sara Errani and Monica Niculescu, but former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva did not make the cut.
Winning the all-Latin American clash with Daniela Seguel from Chile, 6-3 6-3, Zarazua is the first Mexican woman to make a Grand Slam main draw since two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist Angelica Gavaldon’s final appearance in Melbourne in 2000.
The 22-year-old thrilled her home crowd in Acapulco in February, becoming the first Mexican semi-finalist since 1993 and is now 8-3 since the resumption of the WTA Tour.
On Friday, Zarazua held Seguel at bay, using her key weapon, the drop-shot, throughout.
After a lengthy rain delay, Seguel found the range on her forehand to take a 3-1 lead in the second set, but Zarazua ground her way through 8 deuces over the next 2 games to reel her back in, including coming up with a breathtaking combination of a reflex lob and two smashes to save a break point in the 6th game.
Seguel faltered as the World No 178 swept towards the finishing line, sealing the win with a smart wrong-footing forehand winner.
Diminutive in stature, Zarazua has studied countless videos of Simona Halep, the 2018 Roland-Garros champion, to help guide her to a maiden main draw spot in Paris.
“I like Halep a lot. She is someone I look up to. I love her game style, how she acts on court,” revealed the Mexican, who stands at 1.60m tall. “I think sometimes you have to refer to someone and she’s perfect for that, watching some videos and see why they’re so good.
“That’s why when I have time off I watch her. She’s a similar height, so it’s nice to see how she deals with challenges.”
The 22-year-old has tennis heritage in the family, dating back to her great uncle Vicente, a 1968 gold medallist in doubles at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and with 16 Davis Cup ties to his name.
In the main draw, Zarazua will face 17-year-old wildcard Elsa Jacquemot from France in the first round.
Sherif makes more history
Sherif’s feat was even more historic as the first Egyptian woman ever to reach the main draw at a Grand Slam.
Last month, the 24-year-old became just the second Egyptian to compete in a WTA main draw when she qualified for Prague, following Marwa Elwany, a wildcard in Cairo in 1999.
Breaking newer ground, Sherif defeated Italy’s Giulia Gatto-Monticone, 6-1 6-3, in an hour and 19 minutes to seal her destiny, a first round appearance against No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova.
The World No 172 began 2019 unranked but soared to 212 by the end of the year after racking up 6 ITF Pro Circuit titles and she delivered one of the most dominant performances of qualifying this week, dropping just 14 games across 3 matches as she scored wins over Colombian youngster Maria Camilla Osorio Serrano, America’s Caty McNally and Gatto-Monticone without dropping a set.
Against the Italian, Sherif’s heavy forehands were leavened by feathery drop-shots and a never-say-die attitude, particularly evident in the extraordinary 14-minute, 10-deuce break of the Italian’s serve with which the second set opened.
“For me it’s been great. I hope that what I’m doing is motivating younger generations. I want them believe in themselves and achieve all their goals,” Sherif said. “For me this is the most important takeaway from my results.
“I hope that young girls can always keep their heads high and try and achieve all their goals,” she added.
Her first Grand Slam main draw match will be no walk in the park as she will take on Pliskova, the current World No 4.
“She’s one of the best tennis players in the world, she was ranked World number 1 at one point. But I will go into the game and do my best and try to improve, just like any other match,” she added.
Niculescu stops Zvonareva
Romania’s Monica Niculescu, the No 16 seed, defeated Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, 6-0 3-6 6-3, after 2 hours and 6 minutes of rollercoaster play in a match between 2 veterans of the game.
Niculescu sped through the opening 10 points en route to a dominant 25-minute first set, and even the rain break at that point did not help Zvonareva, whose woes continued on resumption as she went down a break in the second.
Trailing 0-6, 0-2, the Russian hit her stride at last to reel off 20 of the next 24 points and 6 of the next 7 games to level the match, only to get sucked into Niculescu’s web of wiles in the decider again as the 33-year-old, slicing and scrambling with no let-up, advanced to a 5-1, 40-0 lead.
Zvonareva threatened another twist as she saved all 3 match points, broke the former World No 28 with a return that she took virtually on the service line, and took 3 games in a row with a point for a 4th, but Niculescu staved off the fightback just in time, concluding what had been a zany ride with an underarm serve setting up a backhand pass on her 4th match point.
Niculescu squares off against Danielle Collins from the USA in the main draw.
While two-time Grand Slam runner-up Zvonareva was unable to make it through, 2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani successfully navigated her qualifying rounds with a 6-3 7-5 triumph over in-form Istanbul semi-finalist Tereza Martincova.
The Czech No 4 seed saved 2 match points at 3-5 as Errani served for the win at 5-4 in the second set, but two games later the 33-year-old Italian broke again to wrap up a week in which she did not drop a set.
The 2012 finalist has her runners-up plate and women’s doubles title trophy from that summer in Paris on display at her parent’s house, and Roland Garros remains a ‘special’ place for her.
“It was really tough to close the match,” said Errani “I’m proud to be back.
“I’ve always had the passion for tennis to drive me on. Things in your life can distract you, but now I’m strong. I’ve played so many matches here and I can’t wait for another.”
Errani lines up in the main draw against Monica Puig, 2016 Olympic gold medallist from Puerto Rico.
18-year-old No 2 seed Marta Kostyuk rode extreme twists and turns before defeating No 22 seed Kurumi Nara, 6-0 1-6 6-2, at just 1 hour and 16 minutes in length, an unusually short three-setter.
Kostyuk, who stretched eventual champion Naomi Osaka to 3 sets in the third round of the US Open, was untouchable in the 19-minute opening set that saw the Ukrainian strike 12 winners to 3 unforced errors and concede only 5 points.
Former World No 32 Nara then changed her strategy and turned things around out of nowhere by taking the forecourt away from Kostyuk, who remained on edge even as she took a 3-0 lead in the deciding set.
“I didn’t go crazy even though I lost the second set,” Kostyuk said. “I think I’ve got a bit calmer over time.
“My life has changed, I’ve been through things and I grew up. It’s now much more easy for me to stay focused, to not be upset or disappointed. I’m just happy right now.”
Nara held a point to get the match back on serve in the 7th game, but the teenager found an extra gear when she needed it to sweep imperiously through the next 7 points, powering away overheads and finishing with a glorious backhand winner to seal a spot in the main draw against another Japanese player, Strasbourg semi-finalist Nao Hibino.
“I think I obviously can do some damage here. A lot of players are afraid of me, they know I can play very well. It’s a great feeling to have to be honest,” insisted the 18-year-old, happy to compete as favourite or by taking the ‘underdog’ tag.
“I don’t mind either way. I just need to refresh and reset, it’s like a new tournament now.”
Kostyuk, the 2017 Australian Open junior champion, is joined in her first Roland Garros main draw by the 2019 Australian Open junior champion, 17-year-old Clara Tauson.
The Dane saved 6 set points in the first set before pulling away from Ivana Jorovic from Serbia, 7-6(5) 6-4, to seal her maiden Grand Slam spot against Jennifer Brady, the No 21 seeded American who won Lexington a few weeks ago.
Rounding out the teenage qualifiers is another debutante, 19-year-old Kamilla Rakhimova from Russia, who backed up her second-round upset of No 1 seed Ann Li with a 7-5 6-3 defeat of Serbia’s Natalija Kostic, and she next takes on another American, Shelby Rogers in the main draw.
Other Final Qualifying Round results
Around the grounds, Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska continued her sublime clay-court form to reach the main draw of Roland-Garros for the first time after the 23-year-old navigated past Chinese youngster Wang Xinyu, 6-2 6-4, the 18-year No 22 seed.
The No 8 seed’s comeback from the wrist injury that derailed her career in 2017 has gathered serious pace this year, with her results this week extending her win-loss record to 38-6.
Against Wang, Podoroska was sharp, eager to take every ball on and looked every inch like a Top 100 player in waiting, and she now meets Greet Minnen from Belgium.
Rounding out the qualifiers are No 17 seed Barbara Haas from Austria, who claimed a 6-4 7-5 win over Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse; Martina Trevisan, another Italian, who routed No 9 seed Astra Sharma from Australia, 6-1 6-1; Romania’s Irina Bara, who sealed her first Grand Slam main draw with a 6-2 7-6(4) victory over Richel Hogenkamp from the Netherlands; and 34-year-old former World No 19 Varvara Lepchenko from the USA, who moved into her 44th major main draw by beating former US Open junior champion Dalma Galfi, 6-3 6-4.