On Court Five, a roller coaster of a match took place today when Kristina Mladenovic, the 30th seed, took on the young Russian Varvara Gracheva, who is making her Grand Slam debut at the US Open. She had opened her account with an impressive straight-sets win over Paula Badosa Gibert, but Mladenovic, who had beaten Hailey Baptiste 7-5 6-2 in the first round, was unsurprisingly the pre-match favourite. But Gracheva defied those expectations in stunning fashion.
Smooth sailing in the first set
In the early stages, Mladenovic looked to be in complete command. She began the match by breaking her young opponent’s serve and after just eight minutes she had taken a 3-0 lead. Gracheva eventually got her side of the scoreboard working two games later, but she was entirely on the backfoot, with Mladenovic using her power and variety to keep her there, with her net play particularly impressive. In truth, Gracheva looked out of her depth and Mladenovic wrapped up the first set in only 32 minutes.
Swings of Fortune in the Third Set
Mladenovic began the second set with an ace, holding serve before breaking her opponent at the first opportunity to take what looked like an unassailable lead. Gracheva attempted to mount some resistance in the next game, for the first time putting the Frenchwoman under pressure on serve. But Mladenovic composed herself to dig out that game and go 6-1 3-0 up. At that point, the pair had still only been on court for 45 minutes.
Gracheva at last stopped the rot with a hold of serve, but the outcome appeared to have long since been decided, particularly when Mladenovic held comfortably and then broke again. But as Mladenovic served for the match, the wheels came off for the former-world #10. Gracheva forced two break points and although Mladenovic saved the first, Gracheva converted the second to give herself a sliver of hope. But still a set and a break down, it was no more than a sliver.
In the very next game, Mladenovic looked to have reasserted herself when she took a 0-40 lead. But Gracheva refused to surrender, ultimately saving four match points as she battled to a vital hold. The Russian, who had looked to be dead and buried was suddenly fired up, whilst Mladenovic was clearly shaken. Serving for the match for a second time, Mladenovic wilted under the pressure as Gracheva broke again to get back on serve.
With the momentum appearing to have shifted decisively in the Russian’s favour, Mladenovic was struggling to stay afloat in the second set. The Frenchwoman did manage to hold on to her next two service games to force a tiebreak, but Gracheva dominated it. The 20-year-old won the first three points to take a decisive lead and she never relinquished that control, ultimately winning it 7-2 to take the match into a third set.
One Way Traffic in the Decider
By now full of confidence and with the wind decidedly in her sails, Gracheva was not slow to press her advantage in the third set. After Gracheva held in the first game of the set, Mladenovic, under pressure, double faulted down break point to hand her opponent a 2-0 lead. Mladenovic looked bewildered, mustering just eight points as Gracheva raced out to a 5-0 lead. And unlike her determined opponent, she did not even threaten a fightback.
As the Russian completed an astonishing 1-6 7-6 6-0 win, it was hard to believe that Mladenovic had at one point been 6-1 5-1 up. Mladenovic clearly believed the match had been won at that point and she was shown to be entirely mistaken in that belief. The result was a loss that can only be described as humiliating. But for Gracheva it was a win to savour and one that has earned her a chance to avenge her defeat to eighth seed Petra Martic in the first round in Prague.
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