In the absence of the top three women's seeds in the second week - for the first time in the Open Era - Australian Open 2011 finalist Na Li and 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist Petra Kvitova found themselves two of the more experienced Grand Slam contenders for the French Open title. Perhaps that extra round's worth of experience made the difference for Li on Monday, the Chinese no.6 seed overcoming a steamroller start by her no.9-seeded opponent to advance to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
In the opening set Kvitova simply had too much firepower for her opponent, cracking nine clean winners including two aces past Li to claim two service breaks. The Czech fought off all five break points against her own service, power plays and rallying drives perfectly metered to the rhythm of each point as it played out.
Li was not totally overwhelmed, reaping rewards when she pounded balls deep into lefty Kvitova's backhand and followed the resulting short replies into the net. But even this tactic made little impression on the potent Kvitova as she skipped through the opener in 33 minutes with seven clean winners and 31 points to her name.
Li began to turn things around in the second set, a high first service percentage protecting her from Kvitova's predatory returns and a mounting clean winner count helping to create opportunities on her opponent's service. She broke Kvitova twice in the second set, in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead and again two games later to extend her advatnage to 5-1. The no.6 seed clinched the set with an off-backhand winner down the line, Kvitova barely flinching as the ball found its mark to leave the match poised at a set apiece.
While Kvitova rediscovered her service at the start of the decider, Li completely lost hers. The Chinese woman managed just three first serves from eight attempts, and committed two double faults in her opening service game of the decider. It was all the encouragement Kvitova needed to go on another tear.
Stepping into the Li second serve Kvitova pummeled her way to a 2-0 advantage, extending that to 3-0 with a love service game, the momentum early in the decider dictated almost entirely by the groundstrokes sweeping from Czech's forehand and backhand wings.
Looking pumped, Kvitova again pushed Li to the wire on service in the fourth game of the third set but Li fought hard, throwing herself at every ball to fight her way out of trouble and hold for 1-3.
Visibly taking heart from that foothold, Li hit balls deep into the corners of Kvitova's court, catching the no.9 seed out of position on three consecutive points in the fifth game of the decider to break back for 2-3.
The best point of the match came at 30-30 in the next game on the Li service, a punishing groundstroke rally punctuated by a drive backhand smash by Kvitova that should have ended the point. Instead Kvitova's smash landed at the feet of her sparring partner and Li rallied on, eventually smacking a line-skimming backhand that Kvitova could barely get a racquet to. Li needed no second invitation, holding serve to pull the match back to 3-3 in the third.
Keeping her drives deep and testing, Li earned her second break point for the set on Kvitova's next service game, covering every centimetre of the court to convert it and take the lead 4-3 which she extended to 5-3 with a tidy service game.
Serving to stay in the match, Kvitova looked like she might keep things alive, the bold game that served her so well at the start of the match earning her the first three points of the game. But that revival was short-lived. Li stroked her way back to deuce, her relentless determination to make a play on every ball proving too much for 21-year-old Kvitova whose thirty-third error put 20-time Slam competitor Li through to the sixth Major quarter-final of her career and her first here at the French.