This time, 12 months ago, the world number three Karolina Pliskova had not reached the second week of a Grand Slam until she reached her first Grand Slam final at the US Open last year. Nevertheless, the 25-year-old has reached her third successive Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open. The world number 97, Veronica Cepede Royg had already upset Pliskova's countrywoman, Lucie Safarova. Safarova was a finalist two years ago, and Cepede Royg upset 16th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
Nonetheless, Pliskova found a way to win, and the reward for reaching a maiden quarterfinal in Paris will be against another debutant in the 28th seed Caroline Garcia, who saw off her compatriot Alize Cornet on Court Philippe Chatrier with both matches finishing almost at the same time. Pliskova also has an outside chance of gaining the world number one ranking if she reaches the final, and she is projected to become the world number two as everything stands.
Cepede Royg causes a scare in the opening set
The 25-year-old from Paraguay ranked at 97 in the world, got off to a dream start by breaking last year's US Open finalist's serve. The unseeded player got off to a good start by outmanoeuvring Pliskova by consolidating the break with ease, with a scorching forehand winner in the corner.
The second seed couldn't get a foothold in this match as she quickly found herself at a double break down by committing a double fault. Both players were committing errors in the Paraguayan's next service game, nonetheless, Cepede Royg's dream start continued as she ran away with a 4-0 lead.
Pliskova was unable to deal with Cepede Royg, moving her around the court as she quickly trailed at 0-30 in her next service game. However, she found her serve at the right time, sending down an ace and got to 40-30. Nonetheless, Cepede Royg continued to move Pliskova around the court but the Czech got on the scoreboard, trailing at 1-4 down.
In the biggest match of her career, the unseeded Paraguayan seemed unfazed at the challenge ahead of her as she held to love. The world number three's bizarre struggles on serve continued, despite racing out to a 30-0 lead. She committed a double fault, followed by a forehand unforced error, which handed Cepede Royg a set point. The Czech's serve out wide, kept her involved in the opening set by saving the set point, and she held onto her serve but trailed at 2-5.
The Paraguayan had some problems serving for the set as Pliskova started to return deep, which caused some issues for the 25-year-old. However, the second seed was unable to retrieve one of the breaks back with a poor backhand unforced error out wide. Cepede Royg fended off the threat of Pliskova, and the potential upset was on the cards by taking the first set, 6-2 in 31 minutes.
Pliskova fights back to send the match into a deciding set
Pliskova went off the court at the conclusion of the opening set, where she played poorly. Nonetheless, the third seed struggled on the court but she held onto her serve to lead 1-0. The Czech upped her level of play in the second set as she raced out to a 0-40 lead. Cepede Royg saved a break point with an ace down the T but she was unable to fend off the other two break points as the South American player committed a double fault.
The Czech finally got into her groove on serve by having her first comfortable service game in the match to 15 and consolidating the break at 3-0. Pliskova finally gritted her teeth into Cepede Royg's service games, and she broke the Paraguayan's serve once again to love for a 4-0 lead.
The second seed dished out two aces in her next service game to garner a 5-0 lead, and seemingly was in a commanding position to take the second set. However, Cepede Royg got onto the scoreboard but trailed 1-5.
Pliskova was struggling to serve out for the second set as she created her first set point chance. The Czech was feeling the pressure as Cepede Royg was swinging freely by creating a break point with a backhand winner down the line. The second seed saved it superbly with a kick serve out wide and a backhand winner down the line. Pliskova created another set point which was quickly wiped out with her own wrongdoing by committing an unforced error. The Paraguayan created a second break point and broke Pliskova's serve in bizarre fashion as the Czech thought the world number 97's return was going long but it caught the edge of the baseline.
Cepede Royg served out to love in her next service game, and she won the next three games on the bounce but trailed 3-5. Last year's US Open finalist would have been pleased to have had the double break advantage, as she raced out to a 40-0 lead. Cepede Royg saved the first one with the return, landing at Pliskova's feet. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old Czech claimed the second set with a service winner out wide, 6-3 to send the match to a crucial final set.
Pliskova survives to reach the first quarterfinal at Roland Garros
Both players held comfortably in their next service games but there was a turning point in the match as Pliskova was making in-roads on Cepede Royg's next service game. The Paraguayan committed two double faults and a tame forehand unforced error in the net handed Pliskova a break point. Cepede Royg fended off the first one with a crosscourt forehand winner down the line but Pliskova saved it with a backhand error out wide.
However, Pliskova was unable to build on her lead as Cepede Royg broke back immediately, playing some special tennis, gaining the break back with a drop shot winner. Cepede Royg took the lead in the final set at 3-2. The crucial point of the match took place in the sixth game of the final set with Pliskova at 15-40 down on serve. The Czech fended off both break points brilliantly with her backhand and forehand doing the damage, and she was not holding back. Pliskova found two more first serves to keep the final set evenly poised at 3-3.
Cepede Royg held serve once more to lead 4-3 in the final set, pushing the scoreboard in her favour. However, more alarm bells were ringing for Pliskova in her next service game as she raced out to a 40-0 lead. She committed back-to-back unforced errors, which gave Cepede Royg a huge break point chance. Pliskova saved it on her second serve, serving big out wide with Cepede Royg was unable to seize the opportunity by committing a forehand unforced error.
Pliskova got a game point with a ferocious forehand down the line, pushing the Paraguayan behind the baseline, and the second seed restored parity levelling the final set at 4-4.
The pressure was too much for Cepede Royg to deal with as Pliskova's strong hitting and a forehand winner down the line gave her a 0-30 lead. The Czech was unable to take advantage of the world number 97's second serve by committing a backhand unforced error. Nevertheless, Pliskova broke Cepede Royg as the Paraguayan's drop shot failed to go over the net.
The second seed had some pressure on her serve when she was serving for the match as she trailed at 15-30. However, she produced a service winner out wide. She gained her first match point with Cepede Royg committing a backhand unforced error in the net. Moreover, the world number three booked her place in her third consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 51 minutes.
By the numbers
Last year's US Open runner-up produced 22 winners, one less than Cepede Royg's overall count. Pliskova committed 35 unforced errors, five more than the Paraguayan, who's older than her by two months. Pliskova only got 54 percent of her first serves in but won 72 percent of the points on. She broke the Paraguayan's serve four times out of seven. Cepede Royg broke the Czech's serve four times as well but she was unable to win the big points on a consistent basis. Pliskova will have to improve in her quarterfinal match with Caroline Garcia.