Svetlana Kuznetsova shut her eyes tightly as if trying to block out the memory of the match points Petra Kvitova erased. Then the 27th-seeded Russian refocused, ran down everything in sight and rallied for a dramatic comeback win to reach the French Open fourth round for the 10th time.
Staring down a break three different times in the decisive set, Kuznetsova refused to give up much ground and never gave up the fight in fending off Kvitova 6-7 (3), 6-1, 9-7 in a three-hour, 13-minute thriller. It was a pulsating match between Grand Slam champions featuring dazzling shotmaking, spirited exchanges, match points saved, opportunities missed, a medical timeout to treat Kvitova's right leg injury and almost as many plot twists as a Victor Hugo novel.
The fifth-seeded Czech curled a full-stretch running forehand pass down the line, skidding to a stop near the court-side flowers, to take a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker. When Kuznetsova netted a backhand, Kvitova had three set points. She needed only one, slashing an ace down the middle to take the 64-minute opener as her coach David Kotyza jumped out of his seat in support.
Undeterred, Kuznetsova took advantage of two double faults to open the second set with a break and consolidated with her second ace. Trailing 1-2, Kvitova left the court for an injury time-out to treat an apparent right hamstring injury. She returned with her upper leg wrapped in tape, but could not slow Kuznetsova's roll. The 2009 Roland Garros champion ran off four games in a row to level the match.
Rarely reticent in going for her shots, Kvitova began playing with even more aggression in the decider — and quickly reaped the rewards. A brilliant angled backhand crosscourt gave her break point and she converted with another backhand winner to break. Fighting off a break point with her 15th forehand winner, Kvitova dug out a low volley off her shoelaces to hold for 2-0.
Kuznetsova's court coverage and consistency were keys to her comeback. She committed 45 fewer unforced errors (Petra committed 65 errors, Sveta only 20), defended with fierce determination and hit some timely counter strikes on the stretch. Sliding into some eye-popping retrievals, she often made the former Wimbledon winner play an extra shot in breaking back for 3-all. Moving more fluidly that she had in the second set, Kvitova converted her fifth break point of the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead, but could not serve it out as Kuznetova spun a running crosscourt forehand to earn two break points, then broke back with a clenched fist.
Drama escalated as Kuznetsova earned double match point in the 12th game. Kvitova attacked and blocked a high forehand volley that caught the baseline as both women briefly paused unsure if the shot was good or the match was over. Stinging a forehand down the line to fight off a second match point, Kvitova earned a hard-fought hold for 6-all.
Empowered by her escape, Kvitova crunched a deep drive eliciting a netted reply to break for 7-6 and served for the match again only to commit three straight unforced errors to face triple break point. She saved the first two, but missed the mark with a backhand as Kuznetsova leveled for 7-7, ratcheting up the tension.
Kuznetsova caught a break when Kvitova lined a forehand into the top of the tape at 30-all. She bolted one of her fastest serves of the set to hold at 30 for 8-7. Serving to extend the match, Kvitova carved a drop volley, but Kuznetsova read it, dashed forward and dug out an angled reply. Lunging to her left, Kvitova winced in pain, possibly aggravating her injury, as she pushed a stretched volley wide. The Czech's 11th double fault gave Kuznetsova three more match points — nearly 25 minutes after her first match point — and this time she closed as Kvitova's forehand sailed.
"It's a huge pleasure," Kuznetsova told Barbara Schett afterward. "I was playing for every ball. I had match points and it was many ups and downs but Petra was playing amazing."
The two-time Grand Slam champion will face another Czech left-hander, Lucie Safarova, who defeated 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic, 6-3, 6-3, for a quarterfinal spot. The pair have split six prior meetings.