French Open: Caroline Garcia loss to Anna Blinkova ends best home hope | French Open 2023

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As Caroline Garcia made her final stand on Wednesday morning inside Court Philippe-Chatrier against Anna Blinkova, her effort was undeniable. Each time she faced a match point, the fifth seed brushed it aside to keep herself alive. In two Blinkova service games deep in the final set, Garcia saved seven match points as chants of “Caro, Caro!” pierced the air.

In the end, it did not matter. Blinkova steadied her nerves and served out the victory 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her eighth match point. With the defeat, France’s greatest hope for a home champion departed for another year.

The early morning had started far more positively. At midnight, Court Philippe-Chatrier was as alive as it has been in years. Nearly four hours after the night session had begun, the bulk of spectators remained, desperate to carry Gaël Monfils until the end. After losing 10 of 11 games to trail 0-4 in the fifth set, he was exhausted and cramping. Somehow, he won.

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For much of the past 20 years, Monfils has arrived here as one of France’s top players, but recent seasons have not been kind to the 36-year-old. Having failed to win a match since August after a miserable time with various injuries, merely passing the first round meant the world to him.

The pressure rested entirely on Garcia, France’s only realistic hope of challenging for either singles title. A year ago, Garcia was ranked 79th as she lost in the second round here to Madison Keys. Garcia’s ranking drop was driven by a foot injury, but she later admitted her struggles had led to her suffering from bulimia for a while.

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Between June and September, she compiled a 31-5 record, winning three titles, including the Cincinnati WTA 1000 event. Garcia reached her first grand slam semi-final at the US Open before ending the year with her biggest win by clinching the WTA Finals in Fort Worth.

Anna Blinkova returns against Caroline Garcia.
Anna Blinkova returns against Caroline Garcia. Photograph: David Winter/Shutterstock

Garcia’s rise was underlined by some of the most relentless attacking tennis in the game. She supplemented her brilliant serve by taking the ball early, looking to attack from inside the baseline and constantly moving forward. A symbol of her offensive game has always been her return position, which is more advanced than almost any player on tour. Garcia stands inside the baseline to return first serves, even when they are flying at 120mph, and she would stand halfway up to the baseline in order to return second serves.

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Garcia started well against Blinkova, breaking serve early and asserting herself throughout the opening set. But as Blinkova served more precisely and imposed herself from the baseline, taking advantage of Garcia’s return position, Garcia simply could not adjust. She was thoroughly outplayed in the final sets and, aside from the final moments, failed to rise to the occasion.

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This is a particularly uninspiring period for French tennis, which usually boasts a deep pool of talented players. Below Garcia, France’s No 2 is the veteran Alizé Cornet, who lost in the first round and will be ranked no higher than 71st after the tournament. On the men’s side, France’s No 1 men’s player, Ugo Humbert, was defeated 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (3) by Lorenzo Sonego on Wednesday. Humbert is ranked 40th, just ahead of veterans Adrian Manarinno and Richard Gasquet.

This may soon change. France boasts the two youngest men in the top 100, the 18-year-old Arthur Fils and 19-year-old Luca Van Assche. The 20-year-old Diane Parry, a resourceful player with a smooth single-hander, is the latest example of France’s tendency to produce unique and instinctive players. For this year, however, their biggest hope is gone.

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