Zhang Shuai on Saturday became the first Chinese woman to reach the last 16 at Roland Garros since former champion Li Na in 2012 although a visa wrangle almost forced her to skip the tournament.
Zhang defeated French wildcard, and world number 357, Clara Burel 7-6 (7/2), 7-5 and will next face either Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova or 18-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez.
The 39th-ranked Zhang admitted, however, that her participation in Paris had been in doubt after a lengthy wait for a visa to allow her to travel from New York, where she had been taking part in the US Open, to Europe.
“I only had one chance to come to Europe,” said the 31-year-old. Her visa was finally granted on the Friday before the start of the Rome clay court event.
“I get passport from the embassy, we buy the tickets after and we fly to Rome. We have to quarantine 24 hours, and then I practice only one hour. So next day we start to play the match.”
Not surprisngly, Zhang lost her opener in Rome but was buoyed by making the quarter-finals in Strasbourg on the eve of Roland Garros, beating Burel on the way.
On Monday, Zhang will be looking to equal her best performance at the Slams. She has made the quarter-finals twice - as a qualifier at the 2016 Australian Open before a second last-eight run at Wimbledon last year.
Zhang, the only Chinese woman in the draw in Paris this year, has tasted Grand Slam success before, winning the Australian Open doubles title with Sam Stosur last year.
It was a dramatic contrast to her mood at the end of 2015 when she was pondering retirement from the sport.
“It’s always tough on clay for Chinese players and Asian players because we play better on faster courts,” said Zhang. “But I don’t think too much about the court. I just relax.”
Jabeur creates history
Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur on Saturday became the first Arab woman to make the last 16 at Roland Garros with a 7-6 (9/7), 2-6, 6-3 win over Belarusian eighth seed Aryna Sabalenka in another breakthrough performance which she admits has raised expectations.
Jabeur, seeded 30, who made the quarter-finals at the Australian Open in January, faces either 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza from Spain or Danielle Collins of the United States for a place in the last-eight.
“The people in Tunisia are really encouraging me a lot. Media, I’m not sure,” said Jabeur as her standout season at the Slams continued after also becoming the first Arab female player to reach the third round at the US Open last month.
“The most important thing for me is having Tunisian people supporting me all the time. That’s really important for me. Also I know they are expecting me to go as far as I can in this tournament.”
The 26-year-old, a former junior champion in the French capital, insisted she will not allow expectations to get too out of hand, lightening the mood by appearing at her news conference wearing a protective mask bearing an image of Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I asked for it. He was like, No way you’re going to wear it. Of course, I’m going to wear it. I’m Team Tsitsipas,” she said.
Former French Open champions Garbine Muguruza was knocked out in round three after she lost 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 to USA’s Danielle Collins.
Women’s third round results
Ons Jabeur (TUN x30) bt Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x8) 7-6 (9/7), 2-6, 6-3
Fiona Ferro (FRA) bt Patricia Maria Tig (ROU) 7-6 (9/7), 4-6, 6-0
Sofia Kenin (USA x4) bt Irina Maria Bara (ROU) 6-2, 6-0
Petra Kvitova (CZE x7) bt Leylah Fernandez (CAN) 7-5, 6-3
Zhang Shuai (CHN) bt Clara Burel (FRA) 7-6 (7/2), 7-5
Laura Siegemund (GER) bt Petra Martic (CRO x13) 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-0
Paula Badosa (ESP) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 6-4, 6-3
Danielle Collins (USA) bt Garbine Muguruza (ESP x11) 7-5, 2-6, 6-4