Finally able to shift some of the focus from the persistent questions about her distinctive grunt by beating Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon last year, Michelle Larcher de Brito has endured a lean 12 months since.
Languishing just outside the top 100, the Portuguese one-time prodigy was back on the qualifying courts at Roehampton on Tuesday and with points to defend from her third-round main draw run in 2013, she started impressively against Argentine lefty Maria Irigoyen, nailing a 6-3, 6-3 result.
Ranked No.131 in the world at Wimbledon last year, Larcher de Brito stunned the No.3 seed and 2004 champion in the second round for the biggest breakthrough of her young career.
“Oh yeah definitely, [that was the] most memorable, best win ever. Definitely the match I won’t forget,” Larcher de Brito said of the Sharapova upset after her opening-round qualifying win.
Having burst to prominence as a 16-year-old, big things have been expected of the diminutive Portuguese player, but the corks would not be popping for long after downing Sharapova. She fell in the next round to unheralded Karin Knapp and has played primarily on the ITF Circuit in 2014.
“It’s been up and down. So far it’s not too bad. I passed the qualifying of the US Open to make main draw there. I reached the main draw of Roland Garros for the first time since four or five years ago, but of course this year, it’s a lot of ups and downs. I’m just trying to stay positive,” Larcher de Brito said.
Against the feisty Irigoyen, the Portguese 20-year-old was forced to win the points several times over against her opponent’s solid defence.
“Yeah we had quite a few good rallies. She’s a tough player, plays with a lot of spin so it jumps pretty high on the grass. I’m just glad to pull through the first round,” she said.
The high of reaching a career-best Grand Slam fourth-round showing at Roland Garros, proved a distant memory for the top two qualifying seeds.
Dutch No.1 seed Kiki Bertens had never been beyond the second round of a major until winning through three rounds of qualifying and upsetting Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova en route to the fourth round in Paris.
For Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier, it was a similar dream run. Awarded a Roland Garros wildcard she channelled the home support to upset Italian Roberta Vinci on her way to the fourth round.
Based on their rankings – both in the top 90 – post-Roland Garros, the pair would have automatically qualified for the Wimbledon main draw.
Both, though, were humbled in three sets in the opening round of qualifying.
Bertens fell 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to Japan’s Eri Hozumi, while Parmentier fell to American Madison Brengle 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
Third-seeded Swiss Timea Bacsinszky had a comfortable victory over Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino 6-3, 6-3, while French seventh seed Claire Feuerstein saw off Belgian An-Sophie Mestach in straight sets 7-5, 6-2.
Liechtenstein’s Stephanie Vogt ground out a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 result against Serbian eighth seed Vesna Dolonc.
Another player to have claimed Sharapova’s scalp at Wimbledon, Russian Alla Kudryavtseva, had a 6-4, 6-2 win over Brit Freya Christie.
The 2011 junior Wimbledon champion Ashleigh Barty also made an impressive start to her qualifying campaign, the Australian's all-court game on full display in a 6-1, 6-2 routing of Turkey's Cagla Byukakcay.
The 18-year-old, whose ranked has slipped outside the top 200, will be looking to make her second Wimbledon main draw appearance, while another 18-year-old, Victoria Duval, downed Marta Sirotkina to join Barty in the second round. The Haitian-born American scored a 6-4, 6-2 triumph for a second-round shot at Frenchwoman Alize Lim.
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