June 3, 2017 / 3:49 PM / 8 months ago

Tennis-French women thrive under home slam pressure

PARIS, June 3 (Reuters) - Home advantage played fully as Caroline Garcia rode the Mexican waves on Court One, breaking the resilience of Taiwan’s Hsoeh Su-Wei to join Kristina Mladenovic and Alize Cornet in the fourth round of the French Open on Saturday.

It will be the first time since 1994 - and only the third since tennis turned professional in 1968 -- that three Frenchwomen will play the last 16 at Roland Garros, with the extra guarantee that one will be in the quarter-finals as Cornet will take on Garcia.

In 1994, Mary Pierce reached the final after knocking out Steffi Graf in the last four, eventually losing to Arantxa Sanchez.

After ‘Kiki’ Mladenovic fed off the Court Suzanne Lenglen crowd to down Shelby Rogers in an epic three-setter on Friday, Garcia was pumped up by the crowd on Court One who chanted, screamed or yelled her nickname ‘Caro’ throughout in a Fed Cup atmosphere.

Garcia prevailed 6-4 4-6 9-7 after the unpredictable Hsieh, whose sliced shots unsettled the local favourite, had served for the match at 5-4.

Four of the six longest matches in the women’s draw involved a French player -- Cornet, Garcia and Mladenovic twice -- showing that when pushed to the limit, the home support can be key.

Expectations have been so high on players to succeed to Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion, that many of them, most notably Amelie Mauresmo, crumbled under pressure at Roland Garros.

Garcia was one of them. A 17-year-old hot prospect in 2011, she was leading Maria Sharapova 6-3 4-1 when she weakened, losing 11 games in a row, and the second-round match.

This year, however, she and the others have appeared to thrive.

“I have experienced a lot of things at the French Open and this is helping me,” said Garcia.

“At the beginning of the match today I was a bit stressed but then I just thought about my game. If we play on Chatrier with Alize, I‘m ready. If you want to win a grand slam, you have to be able to play on the big courts.”

Whether Garcia will be supported by the crowd against Cornet is another matter after she said she would snub a Fed Cup call-up earlier this season, triggering the anger of her team mates.

“I think that the relationship is not very good,” said Cornet after what she called an ‘unexpected’ 6-2 6-1 third-round win against ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ralph Boulton

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