PARIS (Reuters) - Kristina Mladenovic took her love affair with Roland Garros to a new level on Friday, feeding off the home crowd to battle into the French Open fourth round with a 7-5 4-6 8-6 victory over American Shelby Rogers.
“I have no words to describe the love I have for you,” said Mladenovic, who rallied from 5-2 down in the third set to book a clash with defending champion Garbine Muguruza on Monday.
“Honestly, I went through so many emotions during this match that I don’t know what to say. Your support helps me so much. I had goose bumps.”
“Kiki! Kiki!,” the crowd chanted again in an electric atmosphere, declaring their love back to Mladenovic.
One of the favourites after reaching the final in the Madrid and Stuttgart claycourt tournaments, the 13th-seeded Mladenovic is looking to become the first French woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup.
After easing past former runner-up Sara Errani in the previous round, Mladenovic knew Rogers had the weapons to bother her, the American having won their only meeting 6-1 6-1 on a hard court.
Clay made a difference as Mladenovic had more time to run around and use her devastating forehand but, having been hampered by back problems since day one, she was shaky on serve - delivering 13 double faults and winning 42 percent of her points on second serve.
“Physically I‘m very confident. I could have run for another hour,” said Mladenovic.
“The back is another question, it’s still there, I still struggle, especially with my serve. I just fight with everything I have.”
Mladenovic hung on for most of the opening set but broke decisively in the 11th game and held in the next to move closer to a first fourth-round appearance at Roland Garros.
Mladenovic seemed in control when leading 40-0 on Rogers’s serve at 3-3 in the second. The American, however, relied on her perfectly-angled serve for a vital hold and took the set when the Frenchwoman sent a forehand wide.
Still struggling on serve, Mladenovic went 5-2 down in the third under threatening skies.
“When I was on my chair at that point, I thought it was over, but you gave me strength,” she told the crowd.
The local favourite won 10 points in a row to get back into the match and it was eventually Rogers who cracked, dropping serve in the 13th game.
Mladenovic did not choke and served out to seal victory after a battle lasting two hours 46 minutes.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond