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Report: Garcia raises her level to roll Fernandez

  • Alex Sharp

Women's singles second round

Time to bring out the trademark 'Fly with Caro' celebration, as Caroline Garcia evaded danger to soar into the Australian Open third round on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

MORE: All the scores from Day 4 at AO 2023

The world No.4 handled the firepower of Canada's Leylah Fernandez 7-6(5) 7-5 to return to the last 32 in Melbourne for the first time since 2019. 

The build-up

This highly-anticipated second-round match felt very early in the tournament; it could easily be a second-week fixture with two supremely-talented players, both with a pedigree for going deep into the Grand Slam draws.

Last year was a true renaissance from Garcia, rocketing back into the top five from No.74 last January, and clinching silverware such as the WTA Finals along the way.

Garcia arrived in Melbourne off the back of a standout 2022 campaign (Getty Images)

"I see it as a great opportunity, to see where my tennis is at, and to see where I am mentally and physically," said Fernandez, who has been ranked as high as No.13.

"She’s a great tennis player. I feel like she has found her groove once again, and I think it will be an interesting match-up."

The Canadian is eager to dissolve memories of an injury-blighted 2022. Could she serve up another shock just like several during her majestic run in New York two years ago?

Story of the match 

The first set was brimming with front-foot tennis as Fernandez's hooked forehand and early striking earned a 3-2 break lead. Garcia restored parity immediately, with a picturesque backhand volley oozing class.

The Canadian kept picking her spots, kept finding them, but Garcia kept finding the answers.

Controlled aggression from the world No.40 fired Fernandez 5-2 up in the tiebreak, only for Garcia to demonstrate why she is a title contender at Melbourne Park.

Five consecutive points, including a brace of on-the-run passing shots, finished with an ace, launched 'Caro' in front. 

"I felt after the first set it was a little bit of a robbery from my side," joked Garcia. 

"She was pretty much up the whole time, I couldn’t really find my rhythm, but I just tried to play one point at a time, stay in the present and it was very important for me." 

The decisive moment came at 4-5, Garcia pinged an ace past Fernandez to eradicate set point. The next game, Garcia broke to love, another indication of her mental fortitude. 

"I had to make a lot of adjustments, she was playing very early, moving me very well with her forehand," she said of Fernandez. 

"Today was always going to be for who was more aggressive and more inside the court."

Key stats

Forty winners, including 11 aces, were pretty 'magnifique' from the Frenchwoman. 

Garcia's major credentials have taken a step up due to her resilience in the pivotal moments. The 29-year-old harnessed her wealth of experience to save eight of nine break points.

The serve was a devastating weapon for Garcia's rocketing rise back up the rankings last season. The Frenchwoman's delivery was a standout again on Thursday, claiming 77 per cent of points off first-serve deliveries. 

What this means for Garcia

The No.4 seed's notable consistency on the major stage must be catching the attention of her peers at the top table.

Heading into the last 32 at Melbourne Park, Garcia has booked at least a third round in her third straight Grand Slam, which is a career first.

The Frenchwoman will be fancying her chances over the weekend taking on Germany's Laura Siegemund.

MORE: AO 2023 women's singles draw

"I guess it's a surprise to see her in the third round. But she's a great fighter on court," stated Garcia ahead of taking on the world No.154. 

"She can make you a bit crazy with a lot of drop shots, serve and volleys. I will have to be very focused on my serve, my game. It's the third round of a Slam, it will always be tough and I'll be ready as best as I can."

What's next for Fernandez?

Back fit and healthy, Fernandez should see this match as a building block back towards the seeded rankings.

Fernandez and Garcia each won 81 points in the tight two-set contest (Getty Images)

The 20-year-old produced flashes of brilliance and forced an elite player to bring her A-game. A positive defeat.