Defending champion Simona Halep was lucky to complete her match before the light faded on Thursday, Day 5 of the French Championships.
I was close in the end of the second set, but she played really well, she was unbelievable, I’m happy I could win this one, Simona Halep
She had to overcome stiff resistance from Magda Linette, as well as her own nerves and a bout of illness, to book her place in the third round with a 6-4 5-7 6-3 victory that lasted 2 hours 11 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
Halep began the match with some stunning play to take a 2-0 lead, only for Linette to edge back and even things out after several marathon games.
Undaunted, the No 3 seed continued battling and found herself serving for the opening set.
Linette responded once more by clawing back one of the two breaks, but this deficit proved too big and Halep served out the set on her next opportunity.
She broke serve early in the ensuing second set, and held on as the match reached its conclusion.
Linette gamely saved a match point on her own serve and pulled off an impressive drop shot to stay within reach.
She saved two more match points in the following game, one with an impressive winner, and levelled the set with a break of her own.
As Polish flags waved around Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Linette kept pressing and ultimately broke Halep for a second time to force a decider.
Halep began the final set on more confident footing, winning 8 of the first 9 points as the Pole leaked unforced errors, four in the first two games alone, and fell behind by a quick double break.
The Romanian battled through a close game on serve to hold for 5-1, and though Linette pulled off one last surge, Halep proved too strong, breaking the Pole once more to secure victory.
In all, she struck 27 winners to 44 unforced errors and converted 8 of 17 break point chances; Linette played some solid tennis of her own with 31 winners to 42 unforced errors, but only managed 6 breaks of serve out of 10 opportunities.
“I was close in the end of the second set, but she played really well, she was unbelievable, I’m happy I could win this one,” said Halep.
“I tried everything but I didn’t feel that great, I was a bit sick. I gave everything I had on court.
“Tomorrow I will sleep all day because I am a bit sick.”
Linette had brought with her some strategy notes on a piece of paper and she kept Halep in check throughout with some aggressive tennis, but outlasted at the end.
Standing between Halep now and a spot in the second week is either Aleksandra Krunic or Lesia Tsurenko, who she twice played during the Middle East swing earlier this year, winning both matches in straight sets.
That match was called off when the pair levelled at 6-6 in the third set, and will be completed on Friday.
So too was was the match between America’s Madison Keys, the 14th seed, who is poised at set all against Priscilla Hon from Australia, each winning a set apiece, 7-5.
Just like her compatriot Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia was in defiant mood when asked to reflect on the French women’s failure at Roland Garros.
Garcia’s 1-6 6-4 6-4 defeat by Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova ended the local women’s presence in the singles draw, despite the 24th seed being a break in the third set and then crumbling on Court Philippe Chatrier, bowing out with a double fault.
Only twice previously in the professional era, in 1981 and 1986, has no French woman reached the third round at Roland Garros.
Asked to comment on that failure, Garcia quipped: “It’s this thing that journalists tend to say. You have your figures [on how the French women performed]… That’s all I can say.”
Former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, now a tennis analyst for Eurosport, believes the FFT has been focusing too much on the elite players.
“Most of all it’s because of the French federation’s policy. In order to produce top players it starts from the clubs and this base has been lost,” she said before Garcia’s match.
“You have to work from the ground. We’re lacking players [at grassroots level].”
Asked to comment on Bartoli’s analysis, Garcia said: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. What would you like me to say? I don’t know.”
While Bartoli and Amélie Mauresmo, who led the previous generation of French women, reached the quarter-finals of every major, winning a combined three titles, Garcia and Mladenovic have got to the last 8 of a Grand Slam 3 times in total.
Asked if there was a generational gap after her second-round loss on Wednesday, Mladenovic was equally defiant.
“We’re in the final of the Fed Cup, so I think the question is a bit strange,” she said.
France face Australia in the Fed Cup final later this year, having reached the same stage with Mladenovic and Garcia in 2016 before losing to the Czech Republic in Strasbourg.