It was only natural that world No. 12 Beatriz Haddad Maia struggled to close out a slugfest that eventually turned out to be the longest women’s singles match of the year. Back from a doping ban in 2020 and playing the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time, the Brazilian pulled herself up from a set and 3-0 down, only to squander three match points in the decider.
When she did cross the line crushing a forehand winner past Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo at the fourth time of asking, Maia became only the second Brazilian woman, and the first since the late Maria Bueno, the seven-time Major singles champion, in 1968 to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam.
That’s as long as Monday’s fourth round, which ebbed and flowed through three whirlwind sets with neither player able to seize the advantage and momentum, felt. The clock stopped at three hours and 51 minutes, making it the third longest women’s singles main draw match at Roland Garros in the Open Era.
“We played for almost four hours. So it is not only about tennis, it’s a lot of things that come to our mind,” Maia said on court.
The 27-year-old, whose mother and grandmother both played the sport in Brazil, has been through a lot away from tennis over the last few years. Raking up her career-best season and breaking into the top 100 for the first time in 2017, Maia’s charge was halted by a back surgery the following year. Back on the tour in 2019, the top-ranked Brazilian was then provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in July for a failed drug test after her sample was found to contain selective androgen receptor modulators.
Staring at the prospect of a multiple-year exile, Maia’s ban was reduced to 10 months after ITF, in a February 2020 verdict, accepted that the supplement entered her system without any negligence on her part and lifted her suspension from May 2020.
From playing the Wimbledon second round in July 2019 as the world No. 121, Maia returned to competitive tennis for an ITF Portugal $25K in September 2020 ranked 1342. Climbing back up from there to landing two WTA 250 titles and a WTA 1000 Toronto final appearance last year, Maia returned to this French Open achieving her career-high ranking of 10th last month.
Despite coming off consecutive three-setters in her previous two rounds, Maia was quick off the blocks on Monday against the unseeded Spaniard, who was given a walkover by world No. 4 Elena Rybakina and was in the eye of a storm for pressing for a default against her opponents in a doubles match on Sunday. The left-handed Maia was 5-2 up but couldn’t see the set through on serve, instead losing the 74-minute opener in the tiebreaker.
Her damaging forehand, up and down throughout the contest, picked up in time as she collected seven straight games from 3-0 down in the second set.
The decider was topsy-turvy; Maia was close to the finish line at 5-3 but again faltered while serving it out. With Tormo’s serve constantly under attack and Maia finding her 65th winner (almost double to Tormo’s 35) off that powerful forehand on the fourth point, she finally ended the long wait. For herself and Brazil.
The last Brazilian singles player to go all the way at Roland Garros was Gustavo Kuerten in 2001. Maia was all of one when the three-time champion Guga won his first title in Paris in 1997.
“We grew up playing on clay, hearing his name. I got inspired by him, and I also had a chance to meet him. So yeah, Guga is a big idol for me,” Maia, who will take on world No. 3 Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals, said.