Daria Saville wished she had not known she was the last Australian standing at the French Open – but she has embraced the pressure to keep the flag flying in style at Roland Garros.
Saville seemed unfazed by the impending Wednesday wipe-out as she delivered the nerveless rescue act with a second-round victory over double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová 6-4, 6-2.
Earlier Jason Kubler and Ajla Tomljanovic had been knocked out, leaving the 28-year-old as the last hope among the original Australian cast of 11.
“I actually did know I was the last Aussie standing. I don’t know why,” Saville said. “I mean that’s why I [normally] lose matches, to be honest, because I think of this stuff. But I actually did this time – and that’s not a good thing.
“Sometimes, I’m in another world – but then as long as I catch myself, I think, ‘OK, come back, you’re here, play the ball’. And the good thing was that I was able to concentrate again and didn’t think about it.”
Instead, she thought about how good it was to be back in the grand slam picture again amid her stirring comeback after being sidelined for 10 months by an Achilles injury. “And maybe that’s why I played so well,” she said.
She delivered a performance reminiscent of her heyday when, as Daria Gavrilova, she made the world’s top-20 and was briefly the No 1 Australian.
At 32, Kvitová may not be the force of old but Saville, with Australian husband and fellow player Luke applauding among the Court 7 stands, dominated her in a manner few rarely do.
She produced just seven errors to the Czech’s 30, and was delighted with the quality of her serving in a consummate display lasting an hour-and-a-quarter.
It was another step on her remarkable comeback road, and now puts her on the verge of returning to the world’s top 100 after languishing at 624 in the world at the end of January.
In the third round, she will face Martina Trevisan, an Italian she hasn’t played since they were 14-year-old dreamers, and they had an “epic” clash. She predicts another one – and hopes for another win.
Kubler was the last of Australia’s eight men to get knocked out, finding Britain’s new big hope, 10th seed Cameron Norrie, a barrier too far as he was squeezed out 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
But the Queenslander had nothing to berate himself about after his breakthrough fortnight in which he came through three qualifiers and a first round clash. It meant that for the fifth time in six years, no Australian man has been able to get beyond the last-64.
Then Saville watched Tomljanović, who she is chasing as Aussie No 1, exit the tournament. Just two days after one of her best career wins over fifth seed Anett Kontaveit, Tomljanović was left crestfallen by a 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 loss to Russian Varvara Gracheva, who had beaten another Australian, Astra Sharma, in the first round.
“This was just so hard to swallow because the first round felt like a mountain and I climbed it,” Tomljanović said. “And this one, I’m really disappointed … my standard today just wasn’t good enough.”