PARIS (Reuters) - Chants of “Kiki-Kiki-Kiki” resonated around Court Philippe-Chatrier on Tuesday, but the echoes of that sonic support are all that remain of the local fans’ big hope for a French Open champion.
Home favorite Kristina ‘Kiki’ Mladenovic failed to handle the atmosphere, the wind or the rain, as well as Timea Bacsinszky who checked into the semi-finals with a 6-4 6-4 win.
Thirteenth-seed Mladenovic had played with tears in her eyes. She left the arena in a similar state.
Swiss Bacsinszky was thrilled.
“I knew she would be a formidable opponent,” the 30th seed said grinning. “We had everything today: a hurricane, and sand storms, nice weather, and almost snow... it was really complicated to stay focused throughout the day.
“I am knackered.”
Addressing the disappointed French crowd she said: “I am sorry, thank you for the atmosphere.”
She now has time to regroup before meeting 19-year-old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko who ousted Caroline Wozniacki.
Mladenovic had high hopes of becoming the first French champion since Mary Pierce in 2000, but never really clicked.
“Today I was very, very far from my best tennis and it was still a close two sets, I’d be silly not to be positive about that,” said Mladenovic, who believed her opponent’s game was more suited to the tough conditions.
While not looking especially anxious, ‘Kiki’ had looked emotional throughout.
She dropped serve straight away. The expected sonic wave of support had not yet materialized, although at each change of ends more and more spectators flooded in, sated by their sacred French lunches.
“Kiki-Kiki-Kiki” rumbled around the stadium, and the 24-year-old leveled matters up with a break of her own.
Eighty kilometer per hour winds gusted through the grounds as both players, skidding through clouds of clay, picked grit out of their eyes.
The conditions were far from perfect. Both players struggled to hold serve but, leading 5-4, Bacsinszky fired down an ace to seal the set against the local favorite.
Always rigidly upright, with a clenched right fist to celebrate a point won and a long, blonde, plaited ponytail swinging down her back, there are many similarities between Mladenovic and Pierce, the last home-grown champion.
But so too are the hints of the same brittle fragility that occasionally hijacked Pierce’s game.
“There’s no clay left on this court,” a vexed Mladenovic shouted to herself towards the end of that first set.
Bacsinszky simply got on with business, cracking groundstrokes from side to side.
The pair held serve to open the second set and, with Mladenovic facing a break point in the third game, the players were called off court after the dark grey clouds finally broke and heavy rain swept the stadium.
It was more than three hours before play could resume, and, when it did, Mladenovic fought off that break point to nose into the lead, then broke herself for a 3-1 advantage.
Once more that “Kiki-Kiki-Kiki” chant was the soundtrack to Court Philippe-Chatrier, but it was a short-lived affair, with Bacsinszky breaking twice either side of a held service game, to be leading 4-3 and serving.
Mladenovic was playing with tears in her eyes.
The Frenchwoman won the first point of the game, but the pair were then called off court again as the skies darkened.
Mladenovic slammed her racket into her bag and left the arena as the rain started spitting, and groundsmen hauled the big, orange tarpaulin across the court.
They returned about half an hour later. A backhand bunted wide gave Bacsinszky a 5-3 lead, and forced Mladenovic to serve to stay in the hunt.
She held to force Bacsinszky to serve it out, and the Swiss was equal to the task, ensuring she gets to play in the semi-finals on her birthday.
Quirkily enough, while Bacsinszky turns 28 on Thursday, her opponent Ostapenko will be 20 the same day.
Two birthdays, one present — someone will be crying into their cake.
Editing by Julien Pretot, Toby Davis and Ken Ferris