PARIS Roland Garros breathed a sigh of Gallic relief on Friday when defending champion Garbine Muguruza navigated her way through a draw bereft of star appeal to reach the French Open fourth round.
With pregnant Serena Williams absent, Maria Sharapova denied an invitation and top seed Angelique Kerber a first-round casualty, familiar faces are relatively thin on the ground in Paris, and Muguruza's 7-5 6-2 win over Kazakh Yulia Putintseva was greeted warmly by fans on the Philippe Chatrier court.
"She's my favourite of the big names," 26-year-old Amelie Brives told Reuters, smiling as Muguruza hesitantly addressed the court in French.
"But I hope Kiki wins in the next round," she added, alluding to an anticipated last-16 clash with home favourite and 13th seed Kristina Mladenovic, who must first beat American Shelby Rogers later on Friday.
Fourth seed Muguruza, though, kept up her side of the bargain with a dogged performance on the main showcourt.
Putintseva, a pocket rocket early in the first set, fizzled out as the contest wore on and Muguruza turned up the power.
The Venezuelan-born Spaniard raised the decibel level as she nosed in front, teaming each pummeled groundstroke with a loud cry, signalling her determination.
With rain and storms forecast for later on Friday, Muguruza will be pleased to have booked her passage with the minimum of fuss, although if Mladenovic is her opponent in the fourth round she can expect an entirely different reception from the locals.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)