By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Home favorite Kristina Mladenovic ignored her bad back and fed off a buoyant crowd as she cruised into the French Open third round with an emphatic 6-2 6-3 victory over Italy’s Sara Errani on Wednesday.
The 13th-seeded Frenchwoman, who was on the brink of pulling out of the tournament after hurting her back on the eve of her first-round match, rarely looked in trouble against the 2012 Roland Garros runner-up.
Mladenovic, who will next face American Shelby Rogers, was back to her confident self, peppering the court with winners in a one-sided contest.
One of the tournament favorites after reaching the finals in Stuttgart and Madrid this year, Mladenovic lived up to expectations with a tidy display.
No French woman has lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since Mary Pierce in 2000, local hopes often crumbling under pressure.
There is little chance it will happen to Mladenovic, who was basking in delight after her match when the crowd chanted “Kiki, Kiki”.
“It’s tough. It’s either going very well or it’s a drama, because lots of expectation, lots of tension, pressure, playing at home,” she told reporters.
“You could see full house there. You always want to do great. Lots on the nerves. You’ve got to play well. But once you know how to deal with it, to handle that pressure, it’s great. You just enjoy.
“From my side, I’m always trying to take only the positives. I love big events. I love big pressure. I love that kind of atmosphere. This is what I’m there for.”
Against Errani, Mladenovic got off to a good start.
“It was not to be a piece of cake because despite her ranking (91st) she is still an impressive opponent,” the Frenchwoman said.
After losing to Maria Sharapova in the 2012 final, claycourt specialist Errani reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2013 and the quarters in 2014 and 2015.
Mladenovic, who has never made it past the third round here, broke three times in the first set, leaving no breathing space for Errani, who had to get through qualifying to enter the main draw this year.
Errani opened a 2-0 lead in the second set but Mladenovic was too strong on a sun-kissed court and she rallied back before leading 5-3.
She wasted three match points but fired an excellent inside-out forehand winner to wrap up victory.
“I had a huge scare in the first round because of my back. It’s better now but I’m not quite there yet,” Mladenovic said.
“I think that today I was there 70 percent. Those who watched me know that I wasn’t there 100 percent. Mainly when I was serving.
“And also, my miles per hour, when I was serving, or my backhand, my footwork, I could have been faster.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)