World No. 3 Jessica Pegula’s hopes of a Grand Slam trophy were dashed after a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Belgium’s Elise Mertens in the third round of the French Open on Friday.
Pegula, 29, had no answer to Mertens’ versatile game. A former world No. 1 in doubles, Mertens used her full arsenal of shots, including sliced forehands, drop shots, lobs and deep groundstrokes, to maneuver her opponent around and push her back.
Mertens, in 28th place, was nearly flawless at the start, beating the American twice in a row and making Pegula throw down her racquet. Mertens took a 5-0 lead and secured the first set in just 26 minutes.
Pegula, who advanced to the third round after Camila Giorgi was eliminated after the first set, beat Mertens early in the second set but the Belgian player responded in the next game.
With the score 3-2, Pegula created another rare break chance, but then sank three backhands in a row into the net.
Mertens, 27, took advantage of Pegula’s low rate on the first serve to break it again and take a 5-3 lead. The frustrated American shook her head and looked in her coaching box for help.
Her ordeal ended after 82 minutes with her 28th unforced error.
Mertens will try to progress beyond the fourth round in Paris for the first time when she plays number 24 Anastasia Potapova or 2021 French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Sunday.
No.9 Daria Kasatkina made easy work of Peyton Stearns, another USA, to claim a 6-0, 6-1 win in just under an hour.
Stearns, a heavy hitter who defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round, just couldn’t do her goals on a day with a breeze of about 10mph and a low 60F cold find.
More than half of Kasatkina’s 59 points came from Stearns’ 30 unforced errors.
Pegula had similar problems and made 28 unforced errors while Mertens only made 13.
Kasatkina will face Russia’s compatriot Anna Blinkova or Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina to reach the quarter-finals.
With Pegula on the sidelines alongside Caroline Garcia (No. 5), Maria Sakkari (No. 8) and Petra Kvitova (No. 10), four of the women’s top 10 are already gone. It’s part of a pattern this year at Roland Garros: just 12 seeds made it through two rounds, the fewest in Paris since the field was widened to 32 seeds in 2002.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.