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Carla Suarez Navarro: a 12-year high for Spain's women

Carla Suarez Navarro in action on No.18.
by Dan Imhoff
Friday 28 June 2013

Since Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo stepped away from the women’s game, the Grand Slams have been starved of second-week stayers with a free-flowing a single-handed backhand in their artillery.

Carla Suarez Navarro may finally be starting to fill some of that void after becoming the first Spanish woman through to the fourth round at Wimbledon since former champion Conchita Martinez 12 years ago.

She took down Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard on Court 18 on Friday, sneaking through rain delays and surviving a first-set struggle for a 7-5, 6-2 result.

And while it is her third trip to the second week of a major – having reached quarter-finals on debut at the French Open in 2008 and at the Australian Open in 2009 – it is a breakthrough on the grass for the 24-year-old.

Having last week reached the semi-finals in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Spaniard has risen to a career-high No.18 in the rankings, but she remains the only player in the top 20 still searching for her first WTA Tour title.

Should she break that duck at Wimbledon, she would be the first player since Gustavo Kuerten at the 1997 French Open to claim their first title at a major.

Early days yet.

But facing the fearless hitting of last year’s Junior Wimbledon champion, Suarez Navarro was able to weather the storm – both from the blonde pony-tailed teenager and the inclement weather – to show she may be finally maturing as a player under pressure.

Serving at 1-2, Bouchard missed a sitter of a backhand volley and after nine deuces and six break points, Suarez Navarro pounced, breaking for 3-1 before racing through her next service game for 4-1. She was shaky, but closed the set out 7-5 and after a momentary lapse to drop serve in the opening game of the second set, she went on a roll, taking six of the last seven games.

The 19-year-old Canadian, currently at a career-high ranking of No.66, had picked up where she left off after last year’s junior title, taking out Kazakh qualifier Galina Voskoboeva in three sets before stunning Serbian No.12 seed Ana Ivanovic in straight sets on Centre Court to reach the third round.

After her upset of former semi-finalist Ivanovic, Martina Navratilova tipped her as a “potential Grand Slam champion”.

But the mental hurdle of having to back up victory on an outside court after a big result on centre stage proved too much.

“I think that was in the back of my mind, yeah. It's a totally different situation: not on Centre Court, not against a big, big player,” Bouchard said.

“But I knew that ahead of time. I tried to prepare like it was just another match, which it was.”

By reaching the third round the talented Quebecoise is assured of entering the top 60 for the first time, following impressive runs on clay at Charleston – where she came through qualifying, beating Laura Robson on her way to the quarter-finals – and at Strasbourg, where she reached her first tour semi-final.

Afterwards, she found her achievements this week were a little difficult to appreciate, fresh from defeat.

“I think it's been an OK week. I'm always very tough on myself. I always want to do better,” Bouchard said. “So disappointed with today. It'll just motivate me to work harder.”

“She definitely played really well, I thought. She was very consistent. She was being aggressive, more aggressive than me, so she was controlling the points.”

Suarez Navarro will meet a leftie in the fourth round, either 2011 champion Petra Kvitova or Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

And if the Henin-esque backhand is on song, she continues her push to join the second-week stayers.

Just don’t talk first titles too soon.

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