PARIS (Reuters) - Petra Kvitova admitted earlier this week that she did not know much about her third-round opponent Leylah Fernandez but she will not forget their first meeting after scraping into the last 16 of the French Open on Saturday.
The 7-5 6-3 scoreline looked comfortable enough but it failed to tell the story of a match in which Kvitova was pushed to the limit and required every one of the 32 winners she struck to finally quell the 18-year-old Canadian’s challenge.
Last year’s French Open junior champion Fernandez had two set points in an opener she led 5-1 and soaked up losing nine games in row before worrying the seventh seed again late on.
No wonder the 30-year-old Kvitova looked so relieved when she cracked a winner to end Fernandez’s resistance after a near two-hour battle between the two left-handers.
The twice Wimbledon champion has reached the fourth round in Paris for the fifth time and will be starting to fancy her chances with China’s unseeded Zhang Shuai up next.
However, the Czech could so easily have gone the way of many of the other seeds as Fernandez confirmed that American Coco Gauff is not the only teenage rising star.
“I definitely think she is really playing a great game,” Kvitova told reporters. “She’s a great mover. She makes a lot of balls, and if she has a chance, she’s really going for it.
“It was really challenging today and I’m really happy I found a way even though it wasn’t easy.”
From the outset Kvitova tried to impose herself on Fernandez, who looks younger than her 18 years.
But the ball kept coming back in awkward spots with Fernandez’s awareness of angles and openings almost uncanny.
She had a set point at 5-1, then another at 5-3 before Kvitova’s firepower began to cause some damage.
The Czech roared with relief as she cut off a volley to make it 5-5 and in the next game Fernandez, the youngest player to reach the third round, showed her inexperience for the first time with a couple of double faults.
It took Kvitova nine minutes to hold serve for the set but when she secured a double break in the second set it seemed that Fernandez’s resistance was broken.
However, the 5ft 4in Fernandez never looked flustered as she continued asking questions with clever shot-making.
The Canadian recovered one break of serve in the second set and, with Kvitova showing signs of anxiety, had two more break points to level the set at 4-4 but the Czech held firm to move 5-3 ahead with a superbly-angled volley.
Kvitova hammered a winner for victory in the next game before offering some warm words to her opponent at the net.
“She told me congratulations and good luck for the future, which was very nice of her. I’ve admired her since I was very young,” Fernandez, born in Montreal to Ecuador/Philippine parents and who lives in Florida, told reporters.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ian Chadband and Ken Ferris
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