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Local heroine Garcia salutes the fans as she advances to French Open last 16

Caroline Garcia came from a set down to beat the 16th seed Elise Mertens.
Caroline Garcia came from a set down to beat the 16th seed Elise Mertens. AFP
4 min

French number two Caroline Garcia hailed the din of the home crowds after she edged into the last 16 at the French Open on Friday with a three-set victory over the 16th seed Elise Mertens.

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Because of the rising number of coronavirus cases around France, spectator numbers at the 2020 French Open have been restricted to 1,000 a day.

Most of those allowed into the Roland Garros stadium on the sixth day of action appeared to be on the 15,000 seat Court Philippe Chatrier to cheer Garcia.

But what she gave them in the opening stages of the encounter was as dreary and damp as the weather that forced the closure of the roof.

Mertens raced through the first set allowing her French adversary only one game.

The Belgian claimed the first game of the second set but Garcia surged back to win three games on the trot to take control of the second set.

See-saw

Martens though stayed with the world number 45 and broke back for 4-4. But  that parity was fleeting. Garcia broke to lead 5-4 and served out to love to level the match after 72 minutes.

Garcia, warming to the task, got the decisive break at the start of the third set.

That appeared to be enough when she held two match points at 5-4 but she squandered those two and then a third before Mertens claimed the game to level at 5-5

But just as in the second set, Mertens lost her serve only this time it gave Garcia another chance to serve for the match.

Nerves

At the second time of asking and in a game lasting more than seven minutes, Garcia managed to stave off a break point and fluff two more match points.

But a sixth ace brought up a sixth match point and she claimed the encounter when a Mertens backhand drive landed out.

“There was a bit of tension at the end,” conceded Garcia in her on-court post-match interview with former player Fabrice Santoro.

And turning to the crowd, she added: “There aren’t many of you but you made so much noise as if there were lots of you. You supported me a lot.”

Garcia will play the third seed Elina Svitolina in the last 16 after the 26-year-old Ukrainian saw off the 26th seed Ekatarina Alexandrova from Russia 6-4, 7-5.

Commanding

Top seed Simona Halep cruised into the last 16 with a 6-0, 6-1 demolition of Amanda Anisimova. Last year in the quarter-final at the French Open, Anisimova dethroned Halep.

There was never an element of danger for the Romanian who completed the destruction of the 25th seed in 54 minutes.

"I think I played a really good match,” said the 29-year-old. “I was very aggressive and I knew from last year I had to change something and I did that today."

Halep will meet Poland's Iga Swiatek in the last 16. The pair met at the same stage of the tournament in 2019. Halep dropped only one game in the victory.

"She's hitting strong and flat,” said Halep of Swiatek's revamped style. “I have to stay focused on myself. I really want to win again.”

Halep's bid to hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for a second time has been boosted by the withdrawal of the world number one Ashleigh Barty who claimed the 2019 title in Paris.

The Australian cited her concerns over the coronavirus for staying at home. 

US Open champion Naomi Osaka pulled out on the eve of the tournament with an injury and three-time winner Serena Williams withdrew on Wednesday just before her second round tie with an achilles problem.

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