Garbiñe Muguruza looked every inch the Grand Slam champion that she is on Thursday, Day 5, of the French Open as she cruised past French wild card player Fiona Ferro.
The Spaniard, who won at Roland Garros in 2016 and heads to Wimbledon this year as the defending champion, had not played the 21-year-old before and encountered a spirited challenge that she dealt with effectively enough, 6-4 6-3, booking her place in the third round.
She was unknown to me. It's always tricky when you face a French, a young, talented player, She’s young and she’s talented. These matches are very difficult Garbine Muguruza
While she sealed the match with a whipped cross-court forehand, the third seed lost her rhythm and range at times, but steadied herself when threatened.
“She was unknown to me. It’s always tricky when you face a French, a young, talented player,” said Muguruza. “She’s young and she’s talented. These matches are very difficult.”
Muguruza arrived in Paris as one of five women with a chance of claiming the world number one spot but her form leading up to the clay-court Grand Slam has been mixed, exiting the Madrid Open in the third round and suffering a defeat in her opening match of the Rome Open.
There is something about Paris, though, that agrees with her.
“The French Open is the tournament for me. My body is good and my tennis is following,” she added with a smile.
Despite 23 unforced errors, Muguruza struck 26 winners and eased into the third round for the fifth consecutive year where she faces the 2010 French Open runner-up Samantha Stosur.
The unseeded Australian impressively took out the 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 6-2 7-6(1).
Stosur, also a four-time semi-finalist, likes Paris too and is through to the last 32 in Paris for the 10th straight year.
She is yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament, but knows from first-hand experience that Muguruza poses a significant barrier to her progress through the draw.
Not only is the World No 3 the sole woman to have conquered both Serena and Venus Williams in Grand Slam finals, Muguruza blew Stosur off the court in a 6-2 6-4 semi-final two years ago en route to winning her maiden major at Roland Garros.
“I don’t feel like I played too bad in that match. She just beat me that day and that’s the way it went,” Stosur recalled.
“It’s going to be very tough. She obviously plays very well here. She likes it here as well and she’s been in the top 10 now for a very long time.
“So it’s certainly going to be a tough match-up for me, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
The former US Open champion knows a strong serving performance is key to upsetting Muguruza.
“She hits the ball very hard and flat and deep, and I do remember in that match [two years ago] she was hitting really good returns, really close to the baseline, which straight away puts me on the back foot,” Stosur added.
Stosur’s second-round victory improved her win-loss tally at Roland Garros to 39-14, easily her best return from any of the four Slams.
Unseeded for the first time in a decade after missing four months of 2017 with a hand injury, Stosur says her fine record in Paris often provides a source of confidence in clutch moments.
Two-time champion Maria Sharapova edged closer to a possible French Open last-16 duel with her old rival Serena Williams on Thursday as top seed Simona Halep breezed into the third round.
Sharapova, the 2012 and 2014 champion in Paris, needed five match points to see off Croatia’s Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4 in a match which featured 10 breaks of serve.
Former World No 1 Sharapova, seeded 28 this year, will face Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova for a place in the fourth round.
“She’s playing great,” Sharapova said of Pliskova, a player she defeated in their only previous meeting in the 2015 Fed Cup final. “She won a big title in Stuttgart, so I have to be ready to this match and I’ll be ready.”
Williams survived a three-set thriller against 17th-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia 3-6 6-3 6-4 in a match that ended shortly before dusk.
After playing so infrequently, it is as if the American is starting from scratch, dealing with muscle soreness, a lack of verve and a bunch of mistakes but eventually she found her stride, determined and dominant.
Shaking off some rust in her first Grand Slam tournament since giving birth nine months ago, Williams recalibrated her shots and erased a deficit of a set and a break to beat the Aussie challenger.
“I lost the first set, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to try harder. I’ve got to just try harder,’ she told the crowd afterward. “And Serena came out!”
Williams had all sorts of trouble in the opening set, compiling 12 unforced errors and by the time the second set was a game old, she had been broken twice in the match, each time to love, a rather surprising development for the owner of one of her sport’s most dangerous serves.
She started yelling and pumping her fist after pretty much every point that went her way. It woke up her up, and startled Barty.
As big a hitter as Barty is in her own right, she is not in Williams’ class and never has been past the third round at a major tournament.
The 36-year-old American, who became a mother on 1 September, grabbed four consecutive games over a span of less than 15 minutes to lead 4-1 in the second set, and gained control of the third almost immediately, breaking to go ahead 2-1, then holding for 3-1.
After only three winners in the first set, she had 25 the rest of the way.
“When push came to shove, the real Serena came out. And that’s one of her best assets: When her back is against the wall, the best comes out,” Barty said. “And that happened early in the second, and early in the third again.
“She’s not quite at the level she was when she was at her best, but that’s normal. That’s expected,” Barty added. “But her level when she’s not quite on her best is still bloody good.”
When Williams served out the victory with a backhand winner down the line, she raised both arms.
“I felt like it’s been a long way and a long journey, and I’m still getting there, you know. But I have been working really hard, for a really long time,” said Williams, who is ranked 451.
“I just am hoping that every day I’m out there, every match I’m out there … it will come together.”
Next for Williams is a third-round match against 11th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany.
Despite playing on consecutive days, top-seeded Simona Halep showed no signs of fatigue in beating wild-card entry Taylor Townsend 6-3 6-1 to reach the third round.
The Romanian broke the 72nd-ranked American left-hander in the first game and jumped to a 5-1 lead.
Townsend dug deep in the eighth game, with Halep serving for the set, clawing back a break to slow the progress of last year’s runner-up.
Halep served out the last game to love, breaking into a smile after a winning volley at the net that brought up three match points.
“It was a tough match as her left-handed topspin is hard to handle,” Halep said about an opponent who once used to be a right-hander but switched over to being a lefty.
“I was in a little bit of trouble in the beginning because I could not find my rhythm so I am glad to finish this in two sets,” she added. “It was a tough match.”
Her next opponent, Andrea Petkovic of Germany, beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-0 7-6 (5) to reach the third round.
Petkovic was a semi-finalist in 2014 and was once ranked in the top 10 but has slipped to 107 after an injury-blighted few seasons.