Most players are reluctant to admit they get shaky on court but not Simona Halep who embraces the nervous energy and is ready to feel all the emotion as she progresses at the French Open.
The world number one has played three Grand Slam finals and lost them all, including two at Roland Garros, and rare are the times when she does not open up about her early match jitters.
On Monday, she blazed into the quarter-finals by crushing Belgian Elise Mertens 6-2 6-1 as she showed her full range of weapons.
The 26-year-old Romanian started slowly but once she found her groove, there was nothing the 16th seed could do to avoid a one-sided defeat.
“I don’t know how the other players are before the matches, but I think I am very nervous before every match, and this is because I am like this,” said Halep, who will next meet either German Angelique Kerber or local favourite Caroline Garcia.
“So I’m not going to fight with myself about that. But I try to improve this thing, and I try to enjoy my nerves, because they are special when you play in a Grand Slam.”
Despite the nerves, Halep was way too good for her 22-year-old opponent on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Mertens entered the tournament having won two second-tier events on clay including 16 wins and one defeat, albeit against Halep last month in Madrid when she was comprehensively beaten.
The story was the same on Monday as Halep, a French Open finalist in 2014 and 2017, broke for 2-1 in the opening set and never looked back as she outmanoeuvred Mertens, who was sent chasing the ball all over the court.
The Belgian pulled a break back in the second set but then trailed 5-0 as the top seed punched a ticket for the last eight when Mertens served a double fault on the first match point.
“It was not that easy, she is a tough opponent,” said Halep, who is chasing her maiden Grand Slam title.
“Those four games at the beginning were really important, and after that I relaxed and I could play a little bit better.”
Kasatkina polishes off Wozniacki to reach last eight
Saved by fading light the night before, there was no escape for world number two Caroline Wozniacki on Monday as Russian Daria Kasatkina completed a 7-6(5) 6-3 victory to reach the fourth round of the French Open.
Kasatkina, the 14th seed, had played beautifully to lead 7-6 3-3 on Sunday when play was called off but any hopes Australian Open champion Wozniacki harboured that her 21-year-old opponent’s level would dip on the resumption proved fanciful.
It was all over in a matter of minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier as Kasatkina rattled off the three games she needed to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final.
Having disposed of one reigning Grand Slam champion, Kasatkina, who has dropped just one set so far, will next face another in U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens.
Dane Wozniacki’s wait to make a real impression on the Parisian competition goes on despite arriving with high hopes and dropping only 11 games in her first three rounds.
She had been unhappy at being made to continue the night before after both players called for a stoppage at 1-1 in the deciding set even though the light appeared adequate. There were no excuses, though, from the 27-year-old.
“You just try and regroup and come back and get a strong start,” she told reporters.
“I honestly didn’t think I played badly this morning. She didn’t miss one ball, and she was playing very close to the lines. I was trying, but it just wasn’t enough today.”
Kasatkina poses a different set of puzzles with her varied game, however, and was quite prepared to engage in long baseline exchanges during Sunday’s first instalment, mixing her spins and angles to keep Wozniacki guessing.
The Russian, who won the junior title in 2014, had broken in the first game of the match but served three consecutive double faults in her opening service game as some early nerves took hold, although she shrugged that off with a wry smile.
She soon found her rhythm and broke again immediately. Both players seemed happier returning, though, and Wozniacki began to make her weight of shot tell as she moved 5-3 ahead, only to lose her grip and get dragged into a tiebreak.
Two long rallies went Kasatkina’s way for a 2-0 lead before Wozniacki took the next four points.
Kasatkina got back to 4-4 after winning another cagey exchange with a volley after running Woznaicki ragged.
Wozniacki’s patience snapped at 5-6 and she blazed a forehand wide to hand Kasatkina the first set after 69 minutes.
Kasatkina was unshakeable on Monday and outlasted Wozniacki to win a 32-stroke rally to move 5-3 ahead before claiming victory when Wozniacki pulled a return wide.
Kerber downs Garcia to end French singles hopes in Paris
Angelique Kerber ended the French presence in the singles’ draws at Roland Garros when she saw off seventh seed Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3 in the fourth round on Monday.
The German former world number one, seeded 12th, played from the back of the court throughout the match, making it impossible for her 24-year-old opponent to develop her attacking game.
Double Grand Slam champion Kerber will next face world number one Simona Halep after the Romanian demolished Belgian Elise Mertens 6-2 6-1.
Kerber only hit 11 winners but Garcia made 36 unforced errors, meaning the German was never under too much pressure.
Garcia had reached two semi-finals in top-tier events on clay this season, but in front of her home fans on Court Suzanne Lenglen she was unable to produce her best tennis.
The Frenchwoman briefly threatened a comeback when she pulled a break back for 5-3 after saving four match points, but then sent a routine forehand wide on the fifth match point in the following game.
“I’m happy to be through, she has played really well in the last few months,” Kerber said of Garcia, who had reached the quarter-finals last year.
All of the French players in the men’s singles draw were knocked out of the tournament before reaching the fourth round.
Muguruza through as Tsurenko retires hurt
Spain’s Garbine Muguruza reached the French Open quarter-finals without breaking sweat when her Ukrainian opponent Lesia Tsurenko retired after two games on Monday.
The third seed, bidding for a second title in Paris after her 2016 triumph, was 2-0 ahead when Tsurenko pulled out with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Tsurenko, ranked 39th, stretched to reach a Muguruza serve in the second game and immediately clutched the back of her thigh before calling for treatment.
A physio was summoned and Tsurenko was given extensive treatment.
She played on for five more points but walked to the net and shook hands at the start of the third game.
Muguruza is yet to drop a set in the tournament and will face twice champion Maria Sharapova for a place in the semis after the Russian’s opponent, Serena Williams, pulled out before the start of their eagerly-awaited duel due to injury.
She said she had been shocked to hear about 23-times Grand Slam champion Williams.
“It caught me completely by surprise that she withdrew. I guess she has her reasons. It was going to be a very interesting match, for sure,” the Spaniard told reporters.
She has lost all three matches against Sharapova, although they have not met for four years, in which time Muguruza has won two Grand Slam titles and been world number one.
“I didn’t have a preference. I remember I played a quarter-final four or five years ago against Maria, so it’s good to be back there,” she said.
“I think it’s a match that is going to be very interesting.”