The biggest battle on Sunday at Roland Garros was between Leylah Fernandez and Amanda Anisimova, from which the Canadian emerged to take on Martina Trevisan in the quarter-finals, who edged past Aliaksandra Sasnovic in 2 tight sets, while Coco Gauff set up a meeting with fellow American Sloane Stephens for a place in the French Open semi-finals.
Amanda is a very good player, and I'm very happy to be able to beat her. Also I'm very happy to play in front of Thierry Henry, and thank you for coming. Every year before winning juniors I dreamed of playing on Court Philippe-Chatrier in front of you, I am very happy to be here and hope to play on this court again. Honestly, without you, without the public, I think that I wouldn't have been able to win today. Leylah Fernandez
19-year old Fernandez took out Anisimova, the 3rd American in action on Day 7 in Paris, 6-3 4-6 6-3, after an hour 54 and minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier in the chilly conditions.
“Every time I step out on the court I still have something to prove,” Fernandez said later. “I still have that mindset I’m the underdog.
“I’m still young, I still have a lot to show to the people, to the public so that they can just enjoy the tennis match. That’s ultimately my goal, and that’s why I want to do well in matches.”
A junior champion at Roland Garros in 2019, Fernandez clearly has an affinity with the clay, and has been dubbed ‘Clay-lah’ by the Canadian media.
“I think it’s actually pretty amazing that [the media] came up with Clay-lah, because I have no creativity for that,” she laughed. “I wouldn’t think of that nickname.
“But my family do use the nickname Leylannie, using my first and middle name, and they put it together, which I always like. I know that I’m doing things right or I’m being a good kid when they’re calling me Leylannie.
“I definitely feel confident on the court,” she added. “I feel like it really suits my game.
“And I feel like in the previous tournaments this clay season I had some good wins, but it wasn’t really any outstanding results.
“I feel like it gave me a lot to learn from, and I think I’m taking those tough matches that I lost this season and really learning from them, and I guess showing that I’m doing better.”
2019 was the year that Anisimova reached the semi-finals at the age of 17 to become the youngest woman to reach the Last 4 in the Paris main draw since 2006.
Fernandez, the US Open runner who lost to Britain’s Emma Raducanu in the final, had not won consecutive tour-level matches since putting together a 7-match streak in March, when she defended her Monterrey title and reached the 4th round of Indian Wells, where played her only previous meeting with Anisimova, in which she saved 4 match points before the American retired due to illness.
One of 3 teenagers to reach the 4th-round on the women’s side, along with Gauff and China’s Zheng Qinwen, Fernandez was quick out of the gate, winning all 7 of her second-serve return points as she broke Anisimova 3 times on 4 opportunities by pressuring the American into mistakes and closing points at the net to build a 4-0 lead.
She was dictating play with whipped backhand winners and clever net play when double-faults began to creep into the 19-year-old’s game, just as Anisimova settled and responded with 2 breaks to edge closer by the end of the opening set, but her efforts proved in vain, as Fernandez served it out on her second opportunity, forcing another error to close the set in 36 minutes.
The American 27th seed clicked into a higher gear in the second, sending a bevy of fizzing groundstroke winners to move ahead 4-1, producing 18 winners in the set, and fighting off a late rally from the fleet-footed Canadian, before converting her 2nd set point in the 10th game to force matters into a decider.
The tug-of-war continued in the third, with 20-year old Anisimova generating powerful strikes off both wings, while Fernandez probed into ways to exploit the American’s movement.
The Canadian shifted the momentum early in the set, saving a trio of break points from 0-40 in the 2nd game, and proceeded to goad Anisimova into longer rallies from that moment on, which paid off as a break for 3-2 put Fernandez in the driver’s seat, and she sped to the finish line.
A first match point went begging with Anisimova serving at 3-5, but the World No 18 made her next chance count, clinching the win when a last-ditch forehand from the American sank into the net.
“Of course, today it was a match that was very complicated,” Fernandez said in her on-court interview. “Amanda is a very good player, and I’m very happy to be able to beat her.
“Also I’m very happy to play in front of Thierry Henry, and thank you for coming.
“Every year before winning juniors I dreamed of playing on Court Philippe-Chatrier in front of you, I am very happy to be here and hope to play on this court again. Honestly, without you, without the public, I think that I wouldn’t have been able to win today.”
The Canadian’s serving had started well, and got better and better as the match went on after landing 73% of her first serves in the first set, 80% in the second, and an impressive 86% in the decider.
Fernandez will take on Trevisan in the Last 8, after the Italian edged past Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich, playing as a neutral, 7-6(10) 7-5, in a contest between 2 left-handers.
Trevisan has reached the quarters for the 2nd time in her career, having done so in 2020 as a qualifier, the 3rd Italian in the Open Era to do so following Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani.
Last week, the 28-year-old captured her maiden title in Rabat, sparking a renaissance of form, and she has now dropped just one set in her past 9 matches, to Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round of Rabat.
She demonstrated her confidence on key points to come through the narrowly-contested first-time encounter with Sasnovich, which featured the 2nd-longest tiebreak of the season so far.
Firing her left-handed forehand with panache, 59th-ranked Trevisan repeatedly edged into the lead, only to be pegged back by Sasnovich, who twice came from a break down in the first set, and seemed to be in the ascendancy when she broke for 6-5 with a jumping backhand winner.
Trevisan, though, recovered to force a tiebreak, in which she had to save a set point before converting on her 5th.
The second saw Sasnovich come from an early break down to take a 5-3 lead but, with her back to the wall, the Italian surged again, pulling off the shot of the match with a defensive drop-shot at full stretch en route to breaking back before rattling through 16 of the last 20 points and converting her 1st match point as Sasnovich netted a backhand.
“Last year was very difficult for me,” Trevisan said after the match, which lasted a minute shy of 2 hours. “But I collected a lot of experience, positive and negative experience, and at the beginning of this year I was dreaming this moment.
“Because in myself, in my head, I see again this moment. I thought to myself, ‘yes, Martina, you can do again’. I will like to live again this emotion. I mean, I’m here, so I’m really happy.”
Later, 18th-seeded Gauff defeated Elise Mertens, the No 31 seed, 6-4 6-0, in a dominating contest to set up a quarter-final encounter with fellow American Sloan Stephens, who swept past Swiss Jil Teichmann, 6-2 6-0, in just an hour 3 minutes.
Gauff, who is into the quarters here for the 2nd year running, took an hour and 24 minutes to dispatch the Belgian, having been down a break twice in the 1st set but then winning the last 8 games of the match, eventually wearing Mertens down with world-class defence, and taking 51 of the 75 total points of more than 5 shots in the match.
Mertens, who missed much of the clay-court season ahead of the French Open through injury, hit 25 unforced errors and only 15 winners, while Gauff struck 19 winners to 17 miscues, broke 6 times and won 17 of 20 points when she went to the net.
“I feel like every match I’m getting better,” Gauff said after the match. “I think, today, even though I had some tough moments, I was able to tough it out. I really do feel like I’m progressing with each match.
“I definitely feel confident on the court. I feel like [clay] really suits my game.
“The previous tournaments this clay season, I had some good wins but it wasn’t really any outstanding results.
“I feel like it gave me a lot to learn from, and I think I’m taking those tough matches that I lost this season and really learning from them and I guess showing that I’m doing better.”
Many of the games were tight, with 6 out of 10 stretching past deuce, and Gauff lost her serve twice to trail 2-1 and 3-2, but she responded immediately by breaking back each time, and kept momentum for good after a 57-minute opening set, pouncing on a short ball and arrowing some groundstrokes right at Mertens to open up the court before the 18-year-old swatted away a backhand drive volley for an instant break.
The junior champion here in Paris in 2018 and happy on these courts, Gauff now had a spring in her step and secured all the remaining games with a beaming smile on her face.
“I think I just tell myself to fight for every point,” said the elated World No 23. “Pressure is a privilege and I’m glad people are expecting things from me.
“I’m just going to enjoy it, I used to focus on results too much. I think this Slam, I’m probably having the most fun than I ever did in a tournament.”
Gauff will next face her compatriot, Stephens, at a major for the 2nd time in the span of a year, the two Americans having played in the 2nd-round of the US Open, which Stephens won in straight sets.
“I think last time I played her I was super nervous going into the match,” Gauff said. “Not because it was Sloane.
“Just because we were on Ashe and it was all-American matchup. I think a lot of people expected a lot from me in that match.
“Going in, [I’m] just going to approach it like any other match. I have to go back and watch that match and see what I can learn from it.”
Trailing 23rd-seeded Teichmann, with the Swiss serving at 2-0, 40-15, Stephens won 12 games in a row to reach the quarter-finals in Paris for a 3rd time.
Unseeded because she is ranked 64 in the world, Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, basically steam-rolled the Swiss into submission, the left-hander finding no answers to the American’s newly-recovered consistency.
Stephens has now won 12 games in a row twice this fortnight, having previously trailed No 26 seed Sorana Cirstea from Romania in Round 2.
The American arrived in Paris without a win on clay, and was not considered among the top favourites for the French Open title at the start, but she has found the form that took her to the final here in 2018.
“Considering that I did not win a single match before coming into the French Open, I would say that I’m doing the absolute best that I can, and that I am pleased to be in the fourth round for the eighth time,” she after defeating Dianne Parry in the previous round. “I don’t think you ever know when it’s gonna happen or when it’s gonna click. Happy to put the wins together now.”