Elina Svitolina’s French Open breakthrough was again put on hold on Friday when the Ukrainian fourth seed was knocked out 6-3 7-5 in the third round by Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu.
The 23-year-old Svitolina, who trains at Roland Garros and was a quarter-finalist in 2015 and 2017, had been tipped as one of the potential winners for the second year in a row after winning the Italian Open, but she never found her groove on Court One.
She dropped serve five times and made 29 unforced errors, bowing out on the first match point when she buried another forehand into the net.
Buzarnescu, who reached the final in Prague on clay last month, next faces American 13th seed Madison Keys, the 2017 U.S. Open runner-up.
Svitolina played down the expectations that were wighing on her before the tournament.
“Of course I believed that I can play well in the Grand Slams, but I didn’t really think that I was a top favourite in this tournament,” she told reporters.
“I don’t want to think this way. But there are a lot of girls who are playing more consistent — played more consistently than me on clay than I did.”
Svitolina also said that it was hard to study her opponent, a late-blooming left-hander who has been rising fast in the rankings recently, breaking into the top 50 this season.
“Definitely it’s a challenge, but we have to deal with those kind of things,” she said.
“I have to really deal with it. It’s tough. But I had to be ready, and today my game was not there.”
Keys beats Osaka, now ready for trip into unknown
Madison Keys will need to do some homework on her fourth-round opponent after admitting she has not seen fast-rising Buzarnescu in action before.
The 13th-seeded American matched her best run in Paris with a 6-1 7-6(7) win over Japan’s Naomi Osaka on Friday and probably expected to be facing Svitolina next.
Instead, she is up against 31st seed Buzarnescu with a first Roland Garros quarter-final suddenly looking within reach on the clay surface she insists is finally beginning to grow on her.
“I don’t know how to pronounce her last name so I won’t say it,” the 23-year-old American told reporters.
“Obviously I can watch that (match against Svitolina) and see how things go, and I’m going to rely on my lovely coaches to help me out there and give me a game plan, then just going to go out and hopefully execute it well.
“I know that she’s seeded and I always see her name. I just haven’t been able to watch any of her matches. It’s kind of refreshing and nice to play someone you’ve never played before.”
Osaka was no stranger, with Keys having met her and beaten her twice — once in a three-set cliffhanger at the U.S. Open in 2016, also at the third round stage.
Hopes of a repeat of that duel failed to materialise, though, in a match that only briefly caught fire on a dull day.
Neither player would elect clay as their favourite surface but it was Keys who was first to find some rhythm.
Osaka double-faulted to drop her opening service game and she was broken for a second time as Keys charged through the opening set in 30 minutes.
With Court Suzanne Lenglen still half empty, Keys established a 3-1 lead in the second set before Osaka finally began to land some telling blows with her punchy groundstrokes.
Osaka broke back but the mini-revival seemed to have petered out when another double fault allowed Keys to serve for the match at 5-4, only for Keys to tighten up and drop serve.
Keys trailed 4-1 in the tiebreak and had to save two set points, the first with some terrific back court defence and the second with a booming serve before another Osaka double fault ended a contest that had just begun to get interesting.
With a style that generates easy power and a potent serve, Keys will move into the second half of the tournament as a dangerous floater in a wide-open draw.
“I’ve had good results on clay. I think it’s more my own mentality. I feel like a lot of times I get too passive or too aggressive, and it’s finding that middle ground,” she said.
“Having some good wins means I’m figuring it out a little bit more every time I’m on the surface.”
Osaka, who rocketed up the rankings this year after a spectacular title run at Indian Wells, even managed a rueful smile towards her coach as she faced match point and was not too downhearted after defeat.
“I just thought to myself that, even if I lose, I don’t want to have any regrets or anything, and I want to try to keep fighting until the last point,” she said.