AFP/ Paris, France
Serena Williams continued her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title by reaching the French Open second week for the first time since 2018, after third seed Aryna Sabalenka’s surprise loss left the veteran American as the highest-ranked player in her half of the draw.
Three-time Roland Garros champion Williams came through a potentially tricky third-round tie with compatriot Danielle Collins, winning 6-4, 6-4.
She will next face Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina, with a possible quarter-final against old rival Victoria Azarenka up for grabs.
The 39-year-old Williams, still one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of most Grand Slam singles titles, thundered down five aces and struck 22 winners past Collins.
“Today it was very difficult, but I played well, stayed concentrated. I’m very happy,” said Williams, who fought back from 1-4 down in the second set.
The eighth seed had already seen yet another of her potential title rivals exit the tournament on Thursday, when world number one Ashleigh Barty hobbled out during the second round with a hip injury.
After Naomi Osaka’s shock withdrawal, Simona Halep failing to start the tournament through injury and early losses for Bianca Andreescu and Angelique Kerber, none of the players who have beaten Williams in Grand Slam finals since her last title in the 2017 Australian Open are still in the competition.
World number four Sabalenka, who was the highest-seeded women’s player still in the tournament at the start of the day, was dumped out by Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The Belarusian, who has never reached a Grand Slam quarter-final, slumped to a 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 defeat.
The 31st-seeded Pavlyuchenkova will next face Azarenka.
Former world number one Azarenka, who stunned Williams in their 23rd meeting in last year’s US Open semi-finals, cruised past Madison Keys 6-2, 6-2 to reach the Roland Garros fourth round for the first time since making the last four in 2013.
Medvedev delights ‘home’ crowd
Men’s second seed Daniil Medvedev was adopted as the new home favourite by the French crowd as he eased to a straight-sets win over the United States’ Reilly Opelka on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
The two-time Grand Slam runner-up, who speaks French and lived in France as a youngster, impressed in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 success.
Medvedev had lost all four of his previous French Open matches before this week, but received generous support from the fans, with no French players in the third round for the first time in the Open era.
The Russian will face Cristian Garin for a last-eight spot after the Chilean beat US player Marcos Giron 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.
German sixth seed Alexander Zverev needed five sets to beat unheralded compatriot Oscar Otte in the first round before edging Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin in three tight sets.
He cruised to a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win over Laslo Djere on Friday, though, setting up a last-16 clash with former world number four Kei Nishikori.
“This is the main goal of my tennis career, to win Grand Slams, to reach the top of the rankings. I feel like the last year I’m on the right track again,” said Zverev.
Nishikori reached the fourth round when opponent Henri Laaksonen retired injured after dropping the first set.
The short outing would have been a relief for Japan’s Nishikori, who spent more than eight hours on court over the first two rounds.
In-form Norwegian youngster Casper Ruud was knocked out by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in a marathon match which lasted more than four-and-a-half hours.
The Spaniard clinched victory in a dramatic final game on his fifth match point, winning 7-6 (3), 2-6, 7-6 (6), 0-6, 7-5 to secure a last-16 date with Argentina’s Federico Delbonis.
Davidovich-Fokina even saved one of four break points in that last game with an underarm serve.
“I didn’t think. I didn’t know that I will do the underarm serve,” he said.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev returns the ball to Reilly Opelka (not pictured) of the US during their French Open third round match at Roland Garros in Paris, France, yesterday. (AFP)
Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka reacts after losing a point against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (not pictured) yesterday. (Reuters)
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