Paris | Svitolina survives to meet Kasatkina in Last 16

Elina Svitolina showed remarkable resilience in seeing off Ann Blinkova in 3 sets at the French Open on Friday to advance to a Last 16 contest with Daria Kasatkina, who demolished Peyton Stearns with the loss of just one game, while Karolina Muchova upset 27th-seeded Irina-Camilla Begu and 20-year old Elina Avanesyan went the distance against Clara Tauson.

I am Ukrainian. I am standing for my country, doing anything possible to support men and women who are right now in the front line fighting for our land, our country. Can you imagine the guy or girl in the front line looking at me and I am acting like nothing is happening? We are Ukrainians, all united for one goal of winning this war. We do anything that is required. Elina Svitolina

Svitolina beat Blinkova, 2-6 6-2 7-5, for the second time in two weeks, having won her Strasbourg International finale rematch against the Russian, although this time round, the Ukrainian needed 2 hours and 20 minutes to overpower her.

“I’m trying to take one match at a time, try to give everything what I have each match,” Svitolina said afterwards. “Sometimes, you know, like last two matches didn’t go my way in the first set, but I tried to fight back, tried to find my way into the match.

“In the end, you know, I’m working really hard just to find back my game.

“And, yeah, as we can see, I’m moving slowly with wins, and this is good sign that I’m doing something right.”

Svitolina’s next opponent, 9th-seeded Kasatkina, from Russia, was the first to make it to week two in Paris with a 6-0 6-1 demolition over Stearns in just 55 minutes, while Czech Muchova bounced Begu, a Romanian, 6-3 6-2, to meet Russian lucky loser Avanesyan, who outlasted Denmark’s Tauson, 3-6 6-1 7-5.

The Ukrainian had battle long and hard to get past Blinkova, who is also from Russia, to reach the French Open Last 16, in her first Grand Slam appearance since becoming a mother last October.

Once again, Svitolina chose not to shake hands with her rival in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and was booed by some fans.

“I am Ukrainian. I am standing for my country, doing anything possible to support men and women who are right now in the front line fighting for our land, our country,” Svitolina said. “Can you imagine the guy or girl in the front line looking at me and I am acting like nothing is happening?

“It started with the Ukrainian government that went to the meetings with the Russian government,” Svitolina explained. “They were against shaking the hands because they’re not sharing the same values, obviously, and what the Russians are doing to our country.

“We are Ukrainians, all united for one goal of winning this war. We do anything that is required.”

The 28-year-old has repeatedly called for Russian and Belarusian tennis players to be banned from international competition over the invasion of her country.


There was no handshake from Elina Svitolina with Anna Blinkova in protest of Russia's invasion of her homeland Ukraine, eliciting boos from some fans in the crowd on Court Simonne-Mathieu

© Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

On court on Friday, the three-time Paris quarter-finalist had to twice serve for the match in the 10th and 12th games of the decider before eventually claiming the win on her 3rd match point with a crunching backhand winner to see off Blinkova, who had knocked out 5th-ranked local favourite Caroline Garcia in the previous round.

“I wasn’t moving well in the first set, but I tried to fight and find my game,” said Svitolina, who was watched court-side by her husband, Gael Monfils. “After the first set, I was playing better and better, and just tried to give everything.

“I played well under pressure, and just decided to leave everything out there.”

Svitolina, who produced 37 winners in Friday’s win, will play Kasatkina for a place in the quarter-finals, whom she described as ‘brave’ for being the most vocal Russian player to have spoken out against the ongoing war.

Kasatkina, who has left Russia, has been critical of the war, calling it a ‘nightmare’, and understands Ukrainians’ decision not to shake hands with Russian players, or those from Belarus, a key military ally of Moscow.

“I’m thankful to Dasha for taking this position,” said Svitolina of Kasatkina. “That’s what you expect from others, as well. It’s really brave from her.”

The Russian also and supports the decision by Wimbledon and the LTA to provide all Ukrainian players with two hotel rooms and practice facilities throughout the forthcoming grass court season leading up to The Championships.


Daria Kasatkina made light work Peyton Stearns, needing just 61 minutes and dropping only 1 game to advance to the 4th-round at Roland Garros

© Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Kasatkina is also facing a backlash after coming out as a gay and being outspoken, revealing that her mother had contacted her on Wednesday to tell her that the Russian media were calling her a ‘Negro transvestite’ when she Caucasian, and asked her daughter to come home.

A semi-finalist here last year, Kasatkina delivered a rude awakening to Stearns in under an hour, the upset-minded American who took out former champion Jelena Ostapenko, the No 17 seed from Latvia, in 3 sets on Wednesday,

Later she revealed that she has recently taken up vlogging with her girlfriend Natalia, and is ‘taking it very seriously’.

Kasatkina announced in 2022 that she is dating figure skater Zabiiako, and the pair have been posting parts of their lives on social media platforms ever since.

Now they have their own YouTube channel called Zabiiako & Kasatkina, where they post vlog-type content from the tournaments where the Russian is competing.

After her emphatic win in the 3rd-round against Stearns, Kasatkina was asked about her thoughts on the vlogs, and she explained that the focus of it is to bring the fans what they don’t see in matches.

During her press conference, the 26-year-old extended an official invitation to Amélie Mauresmo, the Tournament Director, to come along for the vlog.

“I was thinking to talk with Amélie Mauresmo here. So, Amélie, if you are listening to this, maybe we can arrange something. It’s going to be fun”, Kasatkina concluded.

On court, Kasatkina is cruising, having had no real trouble in her first 3 rounds of the tournament, beating Germany’s Jule Niemeier, 6-3 6-4, and dispatching former Czech finalist Marketa Vondrousova, 6-3 6-4.


Lucky loser Elina Avanesyan is making the most of her second chance and reached the Last 16 with a tight 3-set win over Clara Tauson

© Clive Mason/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Avanesyan has become the first lucky loser in the French Open Last 16 since 1988 following her 3-set defeat of Tauson, after a 2 hour 20 minute battle.

Just over a week ago, the World No 134’s Parisian dream crumbled when she lost in the final round of qualifying in a heart-breaking 3-hour, 7-minute cliff-hanger, 5-7 6-4 7-6[7], to Kayla Day, despite leading 2-0 in the second set, 5-3 in the third set, and 4-1 in the match tiebreak.

Once the 20-year-old’s second chance came along, though, her calm composure has seen her calmly upset 12th-seed Belinda Bencic, 6-3 2-6 6-4, for her first Top 20 win and first Grand Slam main-draw victory, and then hold off a late surge from home favourite Leolia Jeanjean, 6-0 7-5.

On Friday, against Tauson, Avanesyan outlasted the Danish qualifier, winning 31 out of 54 rallies of 9 shots or more.

She led 5-3 in the 3rd set, and held her first 2 match points on the Dane’s serve at 5-4, but shrugged off the loss of that lead to win 8 of the last 11 points.

Avanesyan, who reached her first Hologic WTA Tour quarter-final at Bogota 2022 and made her Grand Slam main-draw debut after qualifying for the US Open last year, has been in surging form of late.

In March, she reached the San Luis Potosi WTA 125 semi-finals, while 4 weeks ago, she won the biggest title of her career at the Wiesbaden ITF W100 event.


Karolina Muchova upset Irina-Camelia Begu, the 27th seed, late on Friday to reach the Last 16 at Roland Garros for the first time in her career

© Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

Avanesyan will now bid to become the first lucky loser ever to make a Grand Slam quarter-final when she faces Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Muchova, the World No 43, upset 27th-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, 6-3 6-2, in Friday’s late match.

To reach the 3rd-round, the Czech had won against Greek Maria Sakkari, the No 8 seed, 7-6(5) 7-5, and Argentine Nadia Podoroska, 6-3 0-6 6-3.

A former Top 20 player, Muchova has gone deep at Grand Slams before, reaching the 2021 Australian Open semi-finals and two Wimbledon quarter-finals, but this is her first time into the Round of 16 at the French Open.

On Friday night, Muchova ousted a player she had never beaten before, toppling Begu in an hour and 33 minutes.

Begu had won both of their previous encounters, which had both come on clay, at 2019 Roland Garros and in Madrid just last month.

On this occasion, Muchova struck 25 winners to just 9 from Begu, and the Czech won 18 of 23 points at the net to set up her first career meeting with Avanesyan.


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