PARIS (Reuters) – The French Open came alive under the Philippe Chatrier Court roof as home hope Caroline Garcia battled back to beat 16th seed Elise Mertens 1-6 6-4 7-5 in a third-round thriller on Friday.
Garcia, who has never quite delivered on her early career promise, was roared on by several hundred fans as she finally claimed victory on her sixth match point.
With play suspended by heavy rain on other courts, the focus was on centre where the largest and noisiest crowd so far at the rescheduled event were treated to an absorbing scrap.
It was a nail-biting climax to a contest that was horribly one-sided in the first set when Garcia could not contain the errors and Mertens looked set to dampen French hopes.
But Garcia rediscovered her form after breaking early in the second with a stunning drop shot and although a poor volley at 4-3 allowed Mertens back in, Garcia broke immediately.
Garcia sealed the second set with a love service game and carried the momentum into the third as she moved ahead 5-3.
Then things got really tense.
Three match points went begging as she served at 5-4 and Mertens seized the chance to break back but Garcia, 26, produced a sensational game to break again for a 6-5 lead.
Getting over the finishing line was proving a mental trial for her and the fans and she framed a forehand wildly on her fourth match point and then double-faulted on a fifth.
An ace brought her a sixth opportunity though and Mertens cracked as she sent a backhand just long.
With the tournament’s daily attendance having been limited to 1,000 fans because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the atmosphere at Roland Garros has been subdued, not helped by the wet weather that has persisted in the French capital.
But for a while it felt like old times as Garcia was roared on to victory.
“To be able to live this kind of moment, first of all, because we didn’t know what was going to happen, to be able to play the French Open it’s a great feeling,” she said.
“To have some crowd to be able to share it with, it’s even more special, especially as they were really cheering for me. I think Elise lived the moment like me.”
Garcia was one of three Frenchwomen to reach the third round and will now face Ukrainian third seed Elina Svitolina for a chance to equal her 2017 run to the quarter-finals here, which was also her best showing in a Grand Slam.
Mertens’s exit continued the fall of seeds at this year’s tournament. Only 13 of the top 32 seeds survived until the third round, the lowest at a Grand Slam since the introduction of 32 seeds at Wimbledon in 2001.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris and Christian Radnedge)