Garbine announces herself as contender

 - Kate Battersby

By beating Elina Svitolina, Garbine Muguruza joins the championship conversation.

Garbine Muguruza third round Roland Garros 2019©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Garbine Muguruza has delivered an emphatic reply to those who thought her intriguing third-round clash with Elina Svitolina was “too soon” at Roland-Garros.

The Ukrainian has long been a bogey opponent for her, and she trailed their five completed Tour-level matches 1-4. But in this encounter Muguruza made an eye-catching statement of intent, exerting her unique brand of elegant aggression to swipe aside the No.9 seed 6-3, 6-3 on Friday, and so reach the last 16 for the sixth year in succession.

“I managed to dominate and play cleverly, and that gave results,” said the 2016 champion, who to date has racked up 27 victories and just five defeats from her seven visits to Roland-Garros. “I am very pleased about this match and it will give me a lot of confidence. I’m trying to approach each match like a final and I’m giving the best I have.

"I don't know what it is about Roland-Garros that gives me always a nice mood and my tennis develops much better. I feel very good in this tournament."

In truth, a second-round walkover from Svitolina’s childhood friend Kateryna Kozlova was exactly what she did not need, and it showed here. Her first round win over Venus Williams was her first clay win of the year as a result of her lingering right knee injury, and Muguruza revelled in that knowledge. The Spaniard’s own clay season has been patchy, but she is gathering authority with each win here.

Svitolina knew that the No.19 seed would try to dictate the points, and she pledged to react accordingly. For the first half hour she was as good as her word, with rallies of less than six strokes a rarity and plenty in the high teens. Muguruza dragged her around the court to test the knee as the two of them slugged it out, and the opening seven games were all breaks as Muguruza’s attempts to pin Svitolina to the baseline resulted in too-frequent error.

But while the Spaniard gradually reduced those mistakes, the intractable problem for Svitolina was that she was winning a gruesome 30% of points on her first serve. Muguruza sealed the opening chapter when Svitolina’s forehand succumbed to the net on the 21st stroke of the rally.

When Muguruza failed to convert early chances to break in the second, Svitolina nailed a terrific inside-out forehand for a 3-2 breach of her own. But instead of the contest reigniting, it turned out to be the last game she won. Muguruza plundered point after point at the net, defying Svitolina’s attempts to pass her. The Spaniard looked insecure on a couple of smashes, but at the death it was her emphatic delivery of exactly that stroke which ended Svitolina’s campaign.

So the Ukrainian’s 13 career titles remain the highest number among active players who have yet to win a Grand Slam. But Muguruza, whose mere seven career crowns already include two Slams, has announced herself with this win as a contender for another here.