PARIS (AP) — After acing her studies enough to earn a Ph.D., Mihaela Buzarnescu is back to acing opponents — all the way into the fourth round of the French Open.
The 30-year-old Romanian was a promising junior before a shoulder injury slowed her progress in tennis. Later, two operations on her left knee interrupted a professional career, so she went to school in Bucharest for a degree in sports science. Now she’s healthy, traded back in her backpack for a racket bag, has climbed more than 300 ranking spots in the last year and, on Friday, produced the biggest upset of the women’s draw at Roland Garros so far.
Playing an aggressive style that produced a 31-11 edge in winners, Buzarnescu stunningly won 6-3, 7-5 against Elina Svitolina, who not only was seeded No. 4 — with a chance to get to No. 1 by tournament’s end — but also was considered among a handful of serious title contenders.
“She was better,” Svitolina said, “and that’s why she got a win today.”
Buzarnescu described her success against Svitolina, who won the clay-court title in Rome two weeks ago and twice has been a French Open quarterfinalist, this way: “I only wanted to be aggressive and wait for the good shots and just go for it.”
Next up for Buzarnescu will be a match Sunday against 13th-seeded Madison Keys, last year’s U.S. Open runner-up, for a berth in the quarterfinals.
Other women advancing with victories Friday: No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 14 Daria Kasatkina, No. 26 Barbora Strycova and unseeded Yulia Putintseva. Matches involving two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and reigning U.S. Open champ Sloane Stephens were postponed because of rain.
If it seems as if Buzarnescu arrived out of nowhere — “I don’t know how to pronounce her last name,” Keys said — it’s because she basically did.
Knowing she would be sidelined for quite a while after her second knee surgery, Buzarnescu decided that if she was going to miss a total of about 2½ years on tour, she might as well devise a backup career plan.
So she went back to school and worked toward a doctorate degree.
“I said, ‘Well, if I’m not going to play tennis,’” Buzarnescu recalled Friday, “‘maybe it would help me on my resume to have a job somewhere in Romania or abroad.’”
Eventually, she felt fine, though, and returned to her sport.
About a year ago at this time, the left-hander was ranked 377th. After winning more than 75 matches in that span, most in low-tier tournaments, she has climbed up to 33rd and is seeded 31st in Paris.
Until this week, she never had won so much as one Grand Slam main-draw match, going 0-2, with both losses against Wozniacki.
Turns out they were juniors together about a decade and a half ago.
“She was always a great player. She got a lot of injuries then. You know, had to fight her way back. I always knew that she had the level,” Wozniacki said. “I knew that it’s just a matter of time before her ranking goes up and she’s seeded in these events.”
Just as Wozniacki envisioned, Buzarnescu is now schooling opponents.