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And so it begins…

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Serena sails on, Rybakina next

Serena Williams, the 7th seed at the French Open, is the highest remaining seed in the second half of the draw, which is opening up nicely for her quest for a 24th Grand Slam title, providing she can stay on track, but she has made it into the second week at Roland Garros with an impressive win over fellow American Danielle Collins, 6-4 6-4, with undue complications.

Yeah, that felt really good for me. Things were not going my way. It's not like she gave me those games. I had to earn it and turn it around. That was really positive for me going into the next match. Was it my best match of the week? I don't know. I felt that I needed to be really focused way a lot in this match because she's playing really well. I've had a rough clay-court season thus far, so I'm happy to get some wins on the clay. Serena Williams

In the round of 16, she will meet Elena Rybakina, the 21st seed from Kazakstan, who ended Elena Vesnina’s comeback major with a 6-1 6-4 victory. The Russian was playing her first Grand Slam since giving birth to her daughter in 2018.

2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova also advanced after the Czech defeated Polona Hercog from Slovenia, 6-3 6-3 in an hour 11 minutes, and the 20th seed will next play 33rd seed Paula Badosa from Spain, who battled past Romania’s Ana Bogdan, 2-6 7-6(4) 6-4.

Williams is a 3-time champion in Paris and knows what a challenge winning the French presents, but she only played j3 matches coming in, recording a straight-set loss in Rome to Nadia Podoroska, and then in Parma, a win over Italian teenager Lisa Pigato before losing to Katerina Siniakova.

“Maybe I do need a few more matches, so I’m going to try to figure that out with my coach and my team and see what we would like to do,” Serena told reporters in Rome before taking a wildcard into Parma. “I have been training for months, but it feels definitely different on clay to make that last adjustment.

“I usually don’t take this much time off on a clay-court season, so usually I play like a Charleston or a Madrid or somewhere.

“So my season doesn’t usually start this late on clay. But the training isn’t for nothing, so I know that it’s just a matter of time.”

She hasn’t looked entirely comfortable on the Paris clay until she met Collins, when she stepped up to the mark, looking sharper than she has for some time.

“Today in particular, this whole week thus far, I just needed a win,” Serena said after her third-round win on Friday. “I needed to win tough matches. I needed to win sets. I needed to win being down.

“I needed to find me, know who I am. Nobody else is Serena out here. It’s me. It’s pretty cool.”

She now has 3 wins under her belt and the deeper Serena goes in a major draw, the more secure she becomes.

Against Collins she found her best tennis of the clay season to hold off her compatriot but, after taking a competitive first set, she found herself down 1-4 in the second as Collins showcased her canny point construction.

Mounting impeccable defence, Williams raised the intensity of her groundstrokes and won 5 straight games to cross the finish line in straight sets.

“Yeah, that felt really good for me,” Serena said after the win. “Things were not going my way.

“It’s not like she gave me those games. I had to earn it and turn it around. That was really positive for me going into the next match.

“Was it my best match of the week? I don’t know. I felt that I needed to be really focused way a lot in this match because she’s playing really well.

“I’ve had a rough clay-court season thus far, so I’m happy to get some wins on the clay.”


Elena Rybakina dispatched Elena Vesnina on Friday and meets Serena Williams next

© Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Serena’s next task will be to get past No 21 seed Elena Rybakina, who fired 12 aces and struck 26 winners in total to defeat Vesnina in straight sets.

The Kazahl had come into Paris sporting an 8-9 season record and had played just one clay tournament ahead of Roland Garros, a second-round showing in Madrid.

Afterwards, she revealed that she has been suffering from health problems this year.

“I was unlucky being in this hard lockdown in Australia which completely changed everything, I can say, because I lost this time preparation and everything,” she said. “After, I had some issues with the health.

“Was not easy at all, but finally now I’m feeling much better. Also, before this tournament I didn’t play three weeks. I rested a bit and I practiced, so I think it was a good decision.

“It was just not easy for me even get good practices, because I didn’t feel well. So it was difficult to practice to manage all the things.”

After cruising to a 6-1, 2-0 lead for the loss of only 11 points, Rybakina’s concentration lapsed as she then dropped 3 straight games and the experienced Vesnina, ranked World No 1096 but a former Top 20 player, sensed her chance.

The 21-year old, however, gathered herself and at 4-4 in the second set, the Russian’s backhand let her down and Rybakina sealed victory with an efficient love hold.

“Of course, I would like to play with Serena,” Rybakina said. “The legend of the sport. Of course I want to be with her on the court, to feel this power and everything. I was watching her matches when I was growing up, and it will be nice to play with Serena. Why not?”

Rybakina was the hottest player on tour before last spring’s pandemic shutdown, and could have the weapons to bother the American.


Paula Badosa saved a match point before seeing off Ana Bogdan late on Friday at Roland Garros

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Spain’s Paula Badosa is another standout in the bottom half, with the 23-year-old now having a tour-leading 16-2 on clay this season and winning 12 of her past 13 matches.

On Friday she faced her first true test of the tournament, but showed steely composure and maturity to save a match point before getting past Bogdan in 3 sets in the best-quality match of the week so far.

“When you have more expectations, people expect that you win that matches like you’re favourite in that moment,” Badosa said. “So it’s tough.

“The thing is that you saw today, when a girl, Ana, she’s 100 in the world, but today she played like Top 20, Top 10 match.

“So you never know. You never know, and you never know that maybe a top player plays a little bit worse that day. Today she played amazing. I’m prepared for every match, and expect that they can play like this.”

Elsewhere, Marketa Vondrousova of Czech Republic, who reached the 2019 French Open final, defeated Polona Hercog in straight sets to enter the fourth round of French Open late on Friday.


Marketa Vondrousova advanced with a straight sets win over Polona Hercog

© Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images


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