French Open 2018: Mihaela Buzarnescu stuns world No 4 Elina Svitolina to continue remarkable trajectory

The turnaround in Buzarnescu’s career, which has been plagued by injuries, started in June last year when she won three tournaments in a row

Paul Newman
Roland Garros
Friday 01 June 2018 18:11 BST
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine suffered a surprising defeat
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine suffered a surprising defeat (Getty Images)

Hard work has paid off for Mihaela Buzarnescu, a 30-year-old Romanian whose career appeared to be going nowhere 12 months ago. At this stage last year Buzarnescu had never played in a Grand Slam tournament, was ranked No 377 in the world and was scratching out a living playing in minor tournaments in Egypt, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Hungary.

On Friday here at the French Open, however, Buzarnescu recorded the biggest win of her career when she beat Elina Svitolina, the world No 4 and one of the favourites for the title, 6-3, 7-5. After arriving in Paris without a victory in any Grand Slam tournament, she is through to the last 16, in which she will face Madison Keys.

The turnaround in Buzarnescu’s career, which has been plagued by injuries, started in June last year when she won three tournaments in a row on the International Tennis Federation circuit. By the end of the year she had won another four and risen to No 72 in the world rankings, enabling her to start playing regularly on the main Women’s Tennis Association tour. Currently the world No 33, she is the No 31 seed here.

In the last 12 months Buzarnescu has played a remarkable 104 matches and recorded more victories (79) than any other player on the professional tour. This year the left-hander has played in her first two WTA finals and won her first tour-level title in doubles in Strasbourg.

The Romanian, who has a PhD in sports science, was simply too good for Svitolina, hitting 31 winners to the Ukrainian’s 11 to win in an hour and 37 minutes. Svitolina had arrived here fresh from making a successful defence of her Rome title and had been one of those players in with a chance of replacing Simona Halep at the top of the world rankings come the end of the tournament.

Svitolina, who trains at Roland Garros, admitted that the speed of Buzarnescu’s rise up the rankings meant she had known little about her opponent. “Today I was really off and couldn’t find my rhythm,” she added. “My game today was really struggling. On the other hand, she was playing great tennis. She was really, really on the ball today.”

Keys, the US Open runner-up, is through to the fourth round for the second time in three years after a 6-1, 7-6 victory over Naomi Osaka. The winning margin would have been bigger but for a passage of play during the second set in which Osaka won 10 points in a row and three consecutive games. Keys also wasted a match point when she served at 5-4.

Both women are big hitters, but on this occasion Osaka struck only eight winners compared with Keys’ tally of 30. Nevertheless, the 20-year-old Japanese had her chances. She led 4-1 in the tie-break and had set points at 6-5 and 7-6, but double-faulted at 7-8 to hand Keys victory.

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina suffered a surprise defeat
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina suffered a surprise defeat (Getty Images)

Clay is clearly not an ideal surface for Keys, but the 23-year-old American said that the French Open grew on her every year. “I feel like I’m playing some pretty good tennis,” she said.

“I have had good results on clay. I think it’s more my own mentality on clay. I feel like a lot of times I get too passive or too aggressive, and it’s finding that middle ground where I’m not playing different to the way that I like playing tennis.To find that middle ground maybe I need to make two or three more balls.”

Caroline Wozniacki needed only 78 minutes to beat France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-0, 6-3. The Australian Open champion, who made only 14 unforced errors, is likely to face a tougher task in the next round when she takes on Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, who beat Maria Sakkari 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in