Surviving Solo, Mladenovic Finding Solutions

Kristina Mladenovic (photo: Alexandre Hergott/Open 6ème Sens – Métropole de Lyon)

LYON/WASHINGTON, March 3, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As one of seven French women playing in this week’s WTA 250 Open 6ème Sens – Métropole de Lyon, in France’s third-largest city, Kristina Mladenovic is standing tall among them. She’s proud of her effort after being pushed to the brink to win her first-round match on Tuesday afternoon at Halle Tony Garnier.

The fourth-seeded Mladenovic, affectionately nicknamed “Kiki,” rallied from a set down and overcame 10 double faults and six breaks of her serve to prevail over No. 135 Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. The victory moved Mladenovic onward to a second-round date Thursday with 129th-ranked qualifier Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, who eased past No. 124 Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-1.

“I really fought for my survival [against Buzarnescu] today,” said Mladenovic during a virtual chat with French and English-language media. “It’s not even a week since we returned from Australia, where we spent over a month. The first rounds are always a difficult task. I had a really good opponent in front of me today. She gave me a rough time, down a set and a break. I’m really proud I stayed composed and never gave up. I’m very happy I finished on a good note. It’s always positive when you take a win at the end of the day, no matter how you play.”

During her two hour and 40-minute match, Mladenovic persevered through all of the double faults and breaks of her serve. Surprisingly, she won 70 percent of her first-serve points when she got her serve in play and converted eight of 12 break points against Buzarnescu. She outpointed her opponent 104-97.

“It was a close score throughout the whole match,” the 27-year-old Mladenovic admitted. “I’m very proud and satisfied that I could close it out. Overall, my attitude helped me and drove me to stay positive and to find answers for improvement with each point.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Mladenovic if she considered Tuesday’s result to be her best or most satisfying win of the year because of the way she came back, she demurred.

“To be very fair, I was far from feeling good today. There’s a lot to work on, to get over the jet lag,” Mladenovic suggested. “We’re human beings; the body still needs to realize where we are at. Against a great opponent, [Mihaela] made it very difficult, but I’m really proud I dug deep and found solutions. This [win] helps.”

The 53rd-ranked Mladenovic, who has been ranked as high as World No. 1 in doubles playing alongside her best friend, Timea Babos of Hungary, and won five Grand Slam titles plus two more in mixed doubles, is going solo this year. Recently, Mladenovic decided to play exclusively singles this year. She said she’s searching for ways to improve upon her world singles ranking – she was ranked as high as No. 10 four years ago – and to add to her one career singles title.

Mladenovic told Tennis TourTalk she spoke to Babos, who was understanding of the Frenchwoman’s decision. “We are best friends and we had that talk. For sure, it wasn’t easy,” she said. “When you’re the best team in the world, there’s something you’re can see you are sacrificing. It doesn’t mean I won’t play doubles any more in my career. …

“I started tennis because I’m a singles player, and doubles on the side has always complemented my work as a singles player,” said Mladenovic, who was born in Saint-Pol-Sur-Mer, France, and now resides in Dubai, U.A.E. “I’ve been lucky to have had so much success in doubles, which has made me grow as a player and earn much experience.

“My improvement came through the doubles – I reached many big stages – and it helped me reach many finals in singles and reach No. 10. It’s been part of my career. It’s nice to have all those titles in doubles under your name. … There’s a time for everything. This year, I decided to just focus a little bit more on singles and just play singles because I’ve already done a lot in doubles. I’m concerned about my energy. I want to improve my [singles] ranking. So, we’ll see how it goes.”

Sometimes, it’s been a lonely road and this week, playing just singles and without spectators in her home country, hasn’t made it any easier. Mladenovic was upfront when she admitted to Tennis TourTalk that she missed the fans. “For sure, it would have been very nice to have played with a crowd, but I kept pushing and surprised myself,” she said. “The crowd helps you, but I’m happy that I kept finding positive energy in this very sad and quiet atmosphere [today]. I enjoyed the struggle but it was great to win.”

Allez! Garcia wins all-French battle with Dodin

No. 3 seed Caroline Garcia broke a three-match losing streak and won an all-French clash over No. 110 Oceane Dodin, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, in one hour and 56 minutes and awaits Wednesday’s outcome between No. 280 Vera Lapko of Belarus and 130th-ranked qualifier Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.

Garcia hit eight aces, won 67 percent of her second-serve points, saved three of five break points she faced and broke Dodin three times in nine tries. She outpointed her opponent 93-83.

“Today, I was able to trust myself with my shots and it’s what helped me win the match today,” Garcia told Tennis TourTalk. The victory leveled Garcia’s 2021 win-loss record at 4-4.

Garcia admitted that she missed playing for the fans. “Here it’s France, it’s home. I think it was a good match – good points – not long rallies, but sometimes spectacular,” she said. I think the fans would have appreciated it. We have to wait for the fans to come back. When they come back, I will appreciate them even more.”

Elsewhere in Lyon: No. 7 seed Paula Badosa of Spain, advanced over France’s No. 188 Harmony Tan, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 (5), and will face No. 122 Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland, who bested No. 128 Irina Bara of Romania, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-3.

Also, in a match-up of qualifiers, No. 129 Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic beat No. 170 Giulia Gatto-Monticone of Italy, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, to advance against No. 2 seed Fiona Ferro of France; and in the final match of the evening, 96th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich got the best of 143rd-ranked Canadian wild card Eugenie Bouchard, 7-6 (7), 6-2, and will play either No. 5 seed Alizé Cornet or 128th-ranked wild card Clara Burel, both from France.

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What they’re saying

Garbiñe Muguruza on the how technology has allowed her to communicate with her coach, Conchita Martinez, while she’s hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19: “I mean, it has been a challenge, but I guess everybody has to, you know, go through this virus with all of this traveling. I feel like sooner or later, you. Know, we are always exposed, so it’s always tough to find a way and to have a member of the team in quarantine.

“But with technology, I feel like we are trying to do our best. She’s always with us, watching my practices and on my ear kind of with my [buds]. I connect them and I can hear her.

“I even practiced one day, part of the practice with the ear phone and, you know, just tried to have a laugh also out of all this, because it’s tough and we have to adapt all the time to every circumstance. But so far we are finding a way.”

What they’re writing

What they’re sharing on social media

Madison Keys / No right to win this point

Yoshihito Nishioka / These ATP players would make good Pokémon characters

Stan Wawrinka / Keep working harder


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Caroline Wozniacki / Broken thumb not part of the plan