Serena Williams isn’t amongst the six players that can leave Roland Garros ranked No. 1, but a gritty performance on Thursday, taking out a seeded player, is making pundits wonder if she can leave France with another Grand Slam title.
Returning for her first Grand Slam tour since the birth of her first child, Williams displayed her ample assets for the second time in a black body suit on the red clay. After dropping the first set on Thursday she raised her game to beat No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“I have definitely always had that will to win,” the 36-year-old said about coming back from a set down. “It was something I was born with, thank goodness. You know, this is a Grand Slam. This is my first one back. I want to do the best that I can. I want to be able to just do my best and one day tell my daughter that I tried my best. When I was out there, that’s all I was just trying to do, is just do that.”
World No. 1 Simona Halep and her world No. 1 wanna-bes in action all advanced on Thursday, some easier than others.
Halep dominated American wildcard Taylor Townsend 6-3, 6-1, and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza worked past French wildcard Fiona Ferro 6-4, 6-3.
“It was really tough even if the score looks pretty easy,” Halep said of Townsend, the former world No. 1 junior. “Her balls were really tough to return, because of the topspin and the forehand, it’s really, really hard. She’s a lefty, as well, so I couldn’t return my best way.”
The world No. 1 will next meet German veteran Andrea Petkovic, who beat American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-0, 7-6(5). Muguruza will meet Sam Stosur after the Aussie upset No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Struggling through were No. 6 Karolina Pliskova defeating fellow Czech Lucie Safarova from a set down 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, and No. 7 Caroline Garcia outlasted China’s Shuai Peng 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Garcia will next meet Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, who upset No. 27 Shuai Zhang 6-3, 6-4, and Pliskova will in a battle of former No. 1s face No. 28 Maria Sharapova, who defeated Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4.
“I think you see it from the younger generation, there is no holding back,” Sharapova said of the 21-year-old Vekic. “From the perspective of coming into a tournament and just thinking that you might get a few rounds in to warm up is no longer the case…Of course they are aggressive. They have to be. They have to take chances against players that have been on the tour for many years. I have experience behind my back, and I think it’s a match that she’s looked forward to for many years, and she’s going to come out and play great tennis, I expected that.”
Lining up 3rd round meetings were No. 16 Elise Mertens and No. 24 Daria Gavrilova after Mertens mauled Heather Watson 6-3, 6-4, and Gavrilova came back to beat American Bernerda Pera 5-7, 7-5, 6-3. Another mouth-watering 3rd round meeting will be No. 12 Angie Kerber and No. 18 Kiki Bertens, one of the hottest claycourters this season. Kerber killed Ana Bogdan 6-2, 6-3, and Bertens beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4, 6-2.
“I’m just happy about my performance I played today,” Kerber said. “I mean, it was the second round here, and I was playing good from the first ball. I found my rhythm, so I was just playing point by point and trying to play my game plan like I was thinking before the match, and it worked. So I’m happy to be through.”
No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova was a 6-2, 6-4 winner over Belinda Bencic. She will next face Lesia Tsurenko after the Ukrainian upset No. 15-seeded American CoCo Vandweghe 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
No. 11 Julia Goerges edged Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck 7-5, 7-6(5), setting up a meeting with the unseeded Serena Williams.
Matches to look for on Friday at Roland Garros include (10) Sloane Stephens vs. Camila Giorgi, (13) Madison Keys vs. (21) Naomi Osaka, (8) Petra Kvitova vs. (25) Anett Kontaveit, and (4) Elina Svitolina vs. (31) Mihaela Buzarnecu.
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