PARIS • Home favourite Kristina Mladenovic underlined her status as the dark horse to win the French Open title this week after defeating defending champion Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 yesterday to reach the quarter-finals.
After a jittery opening set, fourth seed Muguruza rallied but French 13th seed Mladenovic perfectly played the key points in the decider to set up a meeting with Swiss Timea Bacsinszky, who accounted for Venus Williams 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.
Mladenovic, a finalist in Madrid and Stuttgart on clay in recent weeks, overcame another double-fault laden performance and three-set battle.
She might lead the tournament in terms of double faults, having served 40 of them since it started - 16 yesterday.
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But she remains France's ace.
"Kiki, Kiki!" yelled the crowd as Mladenovic, a player born to Serbian parents and who speaks good English and cheers herself up in Italian, negotiated her way through the 1hr 59min clash at Roland Garros.
"I love you, too," she told the chanting crowd after the win on a sunbathed Court Suzanne Lenglen.
"You make me cry. Let me try to speak. It's a last-16 match against the defending champion. Big match, which I was waiting for.
"It's not perfect, there are little problems but I fight as I can... you give me so much strength," added the 24-year-old.
Mladenovic showed her battling qualities again.
In the last round, she came back from 2-5 down in the third set against American Shelby Rogers to win 8-6. In the first round, she was 0-3 down in the decider against Jennifer Brady of the US before winning it 9-7.
Muguruza, however, was largely on the backfoot yesterday and had to deal with more than just her 33 unforced errors. The Spaniard suggested she was unhappy with the partisan crowd as she wagged her finger at them as she made her exit.
In another upset yesterday, Spanish 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta stunned fifth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (6-8), 6-4, 8-6 to set up a quarter-final clash with nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.
Nadal continued his ruthless form by dispatching Spanish 17th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. While he will be making his 11th quarter-final appearance, Carreno Busta will be playing in his first Slam quarter-final after needing seven match points to clinch the 4hr 17min match.
Earlier on Court One, Japanese eighth seed Kei Nishikori survived a two-set blackout to beat Chung Hyeon 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 0-6, 6-4 in their rain-delayed third-round tie, winning the first all-Asian battle at this stage of the tournament.
The 67th-ranked South Korean raced to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set on Saturday before rain saved the day for Nishikori.
"I think the rain helped me a lot because I was really down in the fourth set and mentally I wasn't ready," he told reporters. "I knew I had to change something to beat him today, so I think I made some adjustments to make it a little better than yesterday."
Yesterday, Chung, Asia's rising tennis star, picked up where he had left off to hand Nishikori his first Grand Slam bagel in six years.
But the experienced 27-year-old recovered his composure in time, taking more risks and playing the angles to stretch Chung.
He won the 3hr 51min marathon when Chung double-faulted on match point to set up a clash with Spain's Fernando Verdasco.
Chung remained upbeat despite the loss and has bigger goals than reaching the top 50.
"In my country, tennis is not popular yet," said the 21-year-old. "So I want to make it more popular in (South) Korea, I hope."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Day 9: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 4.30pm. Ch115 & Ch209, 5pm