Just three of the women’s top 10 seeds head into the second week of the French Open after Elina Svitolina became the latest casualty in Paris on Saturday, sent packing by Barbora Krejcikova, while Sloane Stephens upset Karolina Muchova, the 18th seed, and both Ons Jabeur and Coco Gauff also advanced.
I took the time to get myself together, find what makes me happy on court, and kind of find my groove back. Obviously results didn’t happen right away, but I knew eventually things would connect, and it’s nice that obviously since Charleston they have started to come together. Sloane Stephens
Svitolina’s exit comes after World No 1 Ash Barty and Petra Kvitova bowed out through injury, second seed Naomi Osaka withdrew, and Karolína Pliskova of the Czech Republic, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Bianca Andreescu of Canada also suffered defeats in the opening week of the clay court major.
On Day 7, the No 5 seed from the Ukraine followed, ushered out by the in-form Czech 6-3 6-2, who reaches round 4 for the second time, and is on a hot streak, having won her last 8 matches including the title at Strasbourg last week.
Previously known for her doubles, Krejcikova has now become a major factor in singles.
“I really think that playing a lot of doubles actually and playing a lot of also mixed doubles, playing the big courts, playing all these big stadiums, I think that’s what’s helping me right now,” Krejcikova said. “But I actually never really played here singles, but I have some kind of experience from doubles, which it’s always nice.
“So then when I go on the court and I know that I’m playing big court, big player, I know that already have some kind of experience.
“I think that’s really good. That’s really something good for me, and that’s how I think that doubles is actually helping my singles career a lot.”
A former doubles World No 1, Krejcikova made her break into singles at Roland Garros last year, reaching her first WTA 1000 final in Dubai in March and capturing her maiden title in Strasbourg.
The 25-year old produced a slick performance against Svitolina, firing 38 winners to 28 unforced errors and using disguise on her shots by casually finding a winning angle or redirection from a neutral position, seemingly without injecting any extra pace.
Svitolina, a three-time quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, was kept off balance throughout and while the Ukrainian turned in a tidy stat sheet of 20 winners to 19 unforced errors, she was unable to get any consistent foothold in the match.
Krejcikova won the most important tussle of the contest, an extraordinary 13-deuce hold for 5-3 in the first set that clocked in at over 20 minutes in which she saved 4 break points, and ultimately held with a silky forehand winner.
“I don’t really remember the game,” she admitted afterwards. “I just know that I was serving for a long time, and it was just all the time deuce, advantage, deuce, advantage, deuce, advantage.
“I thought it was really a key maybe to the match […] that was the key game that I was able to hold the serve.”
The Czech was also happy with sticking to her aggressive strategy to close out the match, slamming 3 winners to break Svitolina in the final game.
“I’ve been playing a lot of matches where I actually was leading, and then I just started to play really passive and then I lost,” she said. “So I don’t want to make the same mistake again.
“I was just saying to myself, okay, you go, you’re going to play your shot and you win or you lose. There’s nothing wrong about not really actually closing the match because that’s normal. It happens to so many other players, so many higher players.
“So I just felt, okay, I’m going to go. I’m going to try to play my tennis, my best shots, and let’s see, and if I close it, it’s going to be perfect.”
For a spot in the quarter-finals, Krejcikova will now face former finalist Sloane Stephens, who ripped through Australian Open semi-finalist Muchova, 6-3 7-5.
Stephens, who made the 2018 final losing to Simona Halep in 3 sets, was in trouble in the first round against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, but has since found form.
“I took the time to get myself together, find what makes me happy on court, and kind of find my groove back,” Sloane said of her better form. “Obviously results didn’t happen right away, but I knew eventually things would connect, and it’s nice that obviously since Charleston they have started to come together.
“I think for me putting in the time, obviously since I came back from Australia I’ve obviously been putting the work in physically and on the court. It kind of takes a while to get that back I feel like and get back to where you want to be.
“Not all of the most amazing results that I have wanted to have, but slowly, like, getting back and building to where I want to be.”
Stephens pushed Muchova back behind the baseline with heavy topspin, landing 84% of her first serves and blending counter-punching with aggression, which paid dividends.
While Muchova was able to pull off some spectacular winners, she could not translate these into any rewarding coherence while she was unable to make much of an impact on return, bringing up only one break point through Stephens’ first 6 service games.
Down a set and a break, the Czech belatedly began to click and a dazzling passage of play saw her conjure up an elegant stab volley and remarkable angled pass to break back for 2-2.
The remainder of the set proved a treat for fans as both brought out their best but, ultimately, Stephens was more solid, particularly on the biggest points, ending up with 22 winners to Muchova’s 23, while the latter was looser with the unforced errors, leaking 32 to the American’s 25.
Now ranked No 59, Stephens is making a welcome resurgence in Paris, having downed two Czechs, the No 9 seed and Rome finalist Karolina Pliskova, and now the No 18 seed and Aussie Open semi-finalist Muchova, with a third, the 33rd-seed Krejcikova waiting in the wings.
The much-anticipated all-American clash between Coco Gauff and Jen Brady turned out to be an anti-climax as Brady retired after losing a 20-minute first set 6-1, suffering with a bad foot.
“I have been struggling since Rome,” Brady admitted later. “I actually was considering not even playing here.
“Just up until the day before, I was, like, Might as well give it a shot. I wasn’t going to step out there unless I could finish the match in the first round. You know, happy that I was able to get a couple of matches in.
“Then today, you know, I woke up and it was, you know, just worse. Yeah, I couldn’t really play my game. I was about 20% moving. Yeah. So unfortunate.”
Gauff, who has equalled her best performance at a Grand Slam, now takes on Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who made it through to the fourth-round for a second straight year after battling past Poland’s Magda Linette,.
“This is I think my second or third, second or third time in the second week of a slam,” Gauff said. “And I will say this is probably, like my journey to it, has probably been the most professional, I guess, like no, you know, unnecessary three-set matches and stuff like that.
“I think that you can tell that I’m improving and making smarter decisions on the court.”
Jabeur, the No 25 seed, and Linette had split their two previous meetings, and after the first set, the Pole was primed for an upset to take the lead in their rivalry, but the Tunisian executed a comeback win after an hour and a half, picking up her 23rd match-win of the season, 3-6 6-0 6-1.
“I think I was kind of tight a little bit at the beginning, so I wasn’t actually playing my game,” Jabeur said in her post-match press conference. “But I’m very proud of myself that at 5-3, I tried to come back, and I accepted the way she was playing good.
“Actually, she was playing very correctly and she was putting pressure on me.
“I wasn’t playing amazing, so in the second set, I changed the way I was thinking. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to play my game. I’m just going to release a little bit of tension and just be myself on the court.’ And that’s what I did, and it helped pretty well.”
Linette, who advanced when Barty retired from their match in the second round, out-winnered Jabeur by 10 to 8 in the opening set, but the Tunisian completely turned that around in the second, firing 10 winners of her own while allowing the Pole none during that timeframe.
Jabeur continued her dominance in the third, sweeping to a 5-0 lead before Linette fended off 4 match points to get on the scoreboard for the first time since the opener.
Unfazed, Jabeur held in the next game with ease, moving into the fourth round of Roland Garros for the second straight season.