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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, June 2, 2023


Elise Mertens shattered No. 3-seeded Jessica Pegula's Roland Garros hopes with a 6-1, 6-3 sweep to reach the fourth round for the second straight year.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

Seeing her backhand tangled up in net, Jessica Pegula waved her arms in frustration like a woman shoving a dance partner for stepping on her toes.

A precise Elise Mertens choreographed confusion on Court Chatrier and Pegula couldn't stay in step.

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Smooth shifting tactics, Mertens muted No. 3-seeded Pegula 6-1, 6-3 high stepping into the Roland Garros fourth round for the third time.

"I feel very happy. It was a good day at the office," Mertens said. "I mean, I played an incredible first set. Of course, I knew that she was going to come back. She's a great competitor, a great player and fighter.

"So I think the game from 4-3 to 5-3 was crucial to get that one and to get the win. So, yeah, I mean, the confidence was there today. So happy about my level."

It's a deeply disappointing defeat for Pegula, who was riding a streak of Slam success reaching quarterfinals in four of her last five majors and arrived in Paris with high hopes of rising to her first Grand Slam semifinal.

The draw presented open opportunity too.

No. 5-seeded Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, eighth-seeded Maria Sakkari and Olympic gold-medal champion Belinda Bencic were already eliminated from field leaving Pegula a path to a maiden semifinal in the bottom half of the draw.

Credit the crafty Mertens for playing clean, intelligent tennis to score her seventh career Top 5 win and beat Pegula for the third time in as many meetings.

Mertens pumped up the pace on first and second serves and was a perfect five-for-five in break point conversions completing a tidy one hour, 22-minute triumph.

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The former Australian Open semifinalist Mertens will play 2021 French Open finalist Anastasia Pavyluchenkova for a quarterfinal spot.

Continuing her inspired comeback, Pavlyuchenkova conquered 24th-seeded Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

"It's going to be a tough one, of course, but I'm going to focus on myself, and I'm going to review and watch today's match again and focus on myself, as I said. I hope I'll have the best possible chances," Mertens said.

Historic French futility has left Roland Garros without a French singles player in the third round.

The French-speaking Mertens, who is from neighboring Belgium, hopes French fans will continue to support her as the crowd, which included Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters, did today.

"Of course, it does bring a lot of support," Mertens said. "I'm almost at home here, and I try to speak French because I'm in France here. It gives a lot of energy."

It was a bruising day on Paris' red clay for American women. 

No. 9-seeded Daria Kasatkina crushed 2022 NCAA champion Peyton Stearns 6-0, 6-1 in a 55-minute thrashing on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Kasatkina connected on a remarkable 27 of 29 first serves, won 23 of those 27 first-serve points and did not face a break point reaching the French Open fourth round for the third time.

The 2022 semifinalist has not dropped a set cruising into a fourth-round match against either former quarterfinalist Elina Svitolina or world No. 56 Anna Blinkova, who ousted French favorite Garcia. Kasatakina also pulled off the shot of the tournament with a dazzling tweener on Wednesday.

Shifting her spins and speeds, Kasatkina confounded the 21-year-old Stearns, who outhit and outfought No. 17-seeded Jelena Ostapenko in a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 win on Wednesday to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time. It was Stearns' first career Top 20 win and her biggest career win, but Kasatkina closed the curtain on the all-American's inspired run.

The counter-punching Mertens flipped the stylistic script at the outset today.

Hitting big first and second serves, Mertens nullified one of Pegula's biggest weapons, her return game, and repeatedly attacked the American's flat backhand. Pegula's inability to generate enough topspin from her two-hander, and the ensuring struggles with net clearance, was exposed a bit on a breezy day and by the end the American was playing far more backhand slices and drop shots than she typically does to combat Mertens mastery in backhand exchanges.

Cruising on serve, Mertens charged to a 5-0 after just 19 minutes as Pegula could not hit through the Belgian.

Cranking a biting body serve on a second serve, Mertens sealed a dominant opening set in 25 minutes.

Holding a 40-15 lead to start the second set, Pegula was bamboozled by a Mertens moonball the wind knocked in on the line for break point. Pegula tapped a drop shot attempt into net as Mertens scored her third break for a 1-0 second-set lead.

Rushing Mertens' more unruly forehand wing, Pegula broke back in the second game.

An assertive Pegula earned break point in the sixth game at 30-40 and seemed to have the momentum.

Mertens snatched it right back.

Pegula held a 3-2, 40-30 lead on Mertens serve when the Belgian unleashed a perfect storm of spin, angle and running replies to send the third seed packing. A tremendous defensive stand sparked the Belgian through seven of the next eight points as Mertens held then broke again for a 4-3 lead.

The 28th-seeded Belgian saved a break point with a bold serve and smash, but Pegula ran down a drop volley and flicked a forehand pass for a second break point. Another stirring defensive stand saw Mertens stab back a superb Pegula forehand down the line. Transitioning from total defense to instant offense, Mertens knocked off a forehand to save the second break point. The Belgian beat back a third break point on a Pegula floated forehand.

Navigating a five-deuce game, Mertens denied three break points in all finding the third seed's backhand wing to hold with a clenched fist for 5-3.

When Pegula's flat forehand expired in net, Mertens screamed "come on!" holding a pair of match points. Mertens needed only one belting a backhand down the line to wrap up a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 victory.


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