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France's Caroline Garcia (R) is congratulated by France's Alize Cornet after she won their tennis match at the Roland Garros 2017 French Open on June 5, 2017 in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images)

Joel Drucker: The Message from Garcia

The back story to the fourth round match between Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet was the stuff of soap operas, involving everything from Fed Cup politics and team dynamics, to the breakup of Garcia and Mladenovic as a doubles duo, to Mladenovic trashing Garcia’s education and the influence of her father, to Cornet more or less admitting she was hardly friends with Garcia. The plot was thick.

Garcia’s arrival at the late stage of a major had been long anticipated. You might recall that six years ago at this event, after having severely tested Maria Sharapova, Garcia, then 17 years old, drew raves from Andy Murray, who declared that one day she would be number one in the world. But as the match with Cornet began, Garcia, in 20 prior majors, had yet to ever reach a quarterfinal.

The same held true for Cornet, who over the years has occasionally made a sprinkle – such as when she beat Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2014 – but had played more than twice as many Slams (44) and also never gone to the final eight.

So there was an exponential daisy chain of a plot: antagonism between the players, each hungry to reach her first Slam quarter, contested on their country’s biggest stage.

Garcia was the more physical, technically sound player. But Cornet, however awkward her technique, had at her best been able to problem-solve her way through matches with a mix of the grind and various chips, dips and drops.

Early on, though, Garcia was the one in control, her court coverage and power mostly smothering Cornet. In the rallies, Cornet seemed passive, save for when she tried the occasional drop shot that Garcia read rapidly (take that, Kiki). With Cornet serving in the first set at 2-5, ad out, Garcia held her second set point. Thoroughly in charge of the rally, she drew a short ball from Cornet and whipped a crosscourt forehand to close out the set.

The energy of the crowd was disconcertingly vague. Which native daughter to root for? Past 7:00 p.m., the temperature was 73 degrees, so perhaps the fans were also drained after just earlier having witnessed another French hopeful, Gael Monfils, labor unsuccessfully for nearly three hours versus Stan Wawrinka. It takes a lot of energy to watch tennis matches.

Garcia’s momentum continued in the second set. Her doubles expertise surfacing with forceful approaches, Garcia rapidly went up 3-0. Cornet, serving at love-30, grubbed out four straight points to hang on the ledge, down 3-1. A resolute Garcia held at 15 with a crisp crosscourt forehand.

Crunchtime came when Garcia served at 4-2, held a point for 5-2 and missed a makeable backhand. Nerves continued, including a double fault at deuce and a break point for Cornet that was repelled with several deep drives. Once again, eight minutes into the game, Cornet had an ad – but Cornet dug in, Garcia driving a down-the-line forehand wide. At deuce, a deep Cornet return triggered a long forehand from Garcia. On the next point, Cornet drove a backhand return deep and crosscourt. A sluggish Garcia netted a backhand. But Garcia broke back, served for the match at 5-3 and at 15-30 double-faulted twice in a row, the second one flagged into the bottom of the net.

Cornet served at 4-5, love-15 -- and so it was her turn to double-fault twice in a row to give Garcia three straight match points. On the first, Garcia netted a backhand. At 15-40, off a deep down-the-line backhand from Cornet, Garcia laced a beautiful crosscourt forehand. What would the handshake be? To Cornet’s credit, she greeted her conquerer warmly. For now, the French soap opera was over.

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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