By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Minutes after second seed Czech Karolina Pliskova was dumped out of the French Open on Friday, Marketa Vondrousova underlined her credentials as the leader of the country’s new generation by reaching the last 16 for the first time.
With Pliskova, 27, beaten by Petra Martic, twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova having pulled out injured before the tournament and former Roland Garros runner-up Lucy Safarova this week confirming her retirement, the Czechs needed a boost.
Vondrousova, 19, provided it with a superb 6-4 6-4 victory over Spain’s claycourt specialist Carla Suarez Navarro.
“I think this is the biggest result of my career,” 38th-ranked Vondrousova, who will face Latvian 12th seed Anastasija Sevastova, for a place in the last eight, told Reuters.
“It’s the second time in the fourth round (of a Grand Slam for me) but to beat Carla who is such an amazing player, especially on the clay, that a big win for me today.”
Graceful left-hander Vondrousova grew up playing on clay in Sokolov in the west of the country, moving on her own to Prague to practice as a 15-year-old.
One of her favourite memories was, as a 12-year-old, watching on television as Kvitova won her first Wimbledon title.
Whereas Kvitova has always been at her most dangerous on the faster courts, Vondrousova has the perfect tools for clay, great defence, superb movement and plenty of baseline firepower.
Soaring confidence also helps after a win in Rome over French Open champion Simona Halep.
“It’s amazing to be in the last 16,” she said. “I played my first junior Grand Slam here and made the semis so I have like a really good relationship with this place.
“I remember watching here when Lucy (Safarova) made the final in 2015 and I won the girls doubles.”
Now, along with 23-year-old Katerina Siniakova, who faces world number one Naomi Osaka on Saturday, Vondrousova is looking to ensure that the Czech Republic maintain their place as one of the strongest nations in women’s tennis.
Last month she led the Czechs to victory in the Fed Cup World Group playoff win over Canada — her first tie at home.
That is a right of passage for young Czech players and it further boosted the confidence of a player who has made enormous strides this year with consistent results.
She has a 25-6 win-loss record on Tour this year, compared to just 14 Tour wins in the whole of 2018 — reaching the quarter-finals or better in her five most recent tournaments.
“I think this year I have more experience but also have a bigger team around me in Prague, and I’m working hard with them,” Vondrousova, who has been coached by Jan Hernych since the start of the year, said.
Vondrousova broke in the opening game on Friday but two double-faults betrayed some early nerves as she lost serve immediately and then was broken again to trail 3-1.
She quickly settled down though and took the opening set after twice breaking the Spaniard’s serve.
Vondrousova dominated the second set with her deep aggressive grounstrokes and clever changes of pace and brought up a break point at 2-2 with a deft stop volley before Suarez Navarro caved in to the pressure and netted a backhand.
With victory beckoning Vondrousova was remarkably calm, losing just one point in her last three service games.
“It was a very tough match for me but I think it was a great match and I think I was just trying to keep focussed and stay aggressive,” she said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)