Serena Williams Into The Second Week At Roland Garros

Serena Willilams (photo: Roland Garros/Twitter)

PARIS, June 4, 2021 (by Alessandro Boroch)

Twenty-three years after reaching the fourth round in Paris for the first time, three-time Roland Garros champion Serena Williams is back in the second week of the clay-court major for a 13th time after a convincing 6-4, 6-4 victory over fellow American Danielle Collins.

Williams trailed 1-4 in the second set but went on to win the next five games for the victory. She secured 80 per-cent of her first-serve points (28 of 35) and won 27 of 60 (45 per cent) of her receiving points.

With her win, the 23-time major champion remains the only Top 10 player in the bottom half of the French Open draw. Next, Serena will take on 21st seed Elena Rybakina, who emerged victorious from an all-Russian battle against former World No. 13 Elena Vesnina, 6-1, 6-4.

During her press conference, Rybakina was asked about a potential fourth-round meeting against Serena and hoped she would be able to face her next.

“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?”

Contender for match of the year

In a thrilling four-hour and 34-minute fight, Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina gave himself an early birthday present, edging Norwegian 15th seed Casper Ruud 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(6), 0-6, 7-5 to reach the second week at Roland Garros for the first time in his young career.

The 21-year-old Spaniard needed five set points and also had to save four break points in his last game, including one with an underarm serve, to close out his sixth Top 20 victory.

The Davidovich Fokina-Ruud match provided lots of shifts in direction, with Ruud even claiming fifteen more points in total (188 to 173), but still losing in the end.

“It’s difficult because you never really know what’s going to come out of his racquet,” said Ruud afterwards. “He can produce extremely good shots and extreme winners, passing shots, beautiful drop shots. But sometimes he can also do more mistakes. The fourth set went fast. That was the set where I played very well and he kind of lowered down a little bit. But then in the fifth [set] it was game on again.”

Next, Davidovich Fokina will oppose Argentine Federico Delbonis, who upset 27th seed and former quarter-finalist Fabio Fognini of Italy, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3.

Zverev into second week

Since losing the first two sets to compatriot Oscar Otte in the opening-round, sixth seed Alexander Zverev has not dropped a single set. He now holds a nine-set winning streak after claiming a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Serb Laslo Djere. During the course of the match, Zverev earned seven breaks of serve and hit 31 winners.

“I am happy that the further we go in the tournament the better I start hopefully playing. This is the main goal of my tennis career, to win Grand Slams and I feel in the past year-and-a-half I am on a very good [path] again and I hope I can continue,” Zverev said.

Next, the 24-year-old German will face four-time Roland Garros quarter-finalist Kei Nishikori, leading their respective head-to-head series by 4-1, including two wins on clay.

Other seeds in action

Despite arriving in Paris with great confidence after reaching two consecutive finals and winning  the Mutua Madrid Open title on clay, World No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka, who has never gone beyond the fourth round at any Grand Slam, once again fell short on major-level. She ultimately lost 4-6, 6-2, 0-6 to 31th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Today’s win marked Pavlyuchenkova’s 37th career Top-10 victory, including 16 wins over Top-5 opponents.

“Sometimes I guess it’s easier – well, not easier, but mentally you maybe have less to lose [playing against a higher ranked player],” Pavlyuchenkova said. “The better player you are, the more players want to beat you, the more they are fired up against you.

“At this point, I’m not focusing on the rankings any more. Not focusing on anything, on the names, nothing. I just take this particular match, and I want to win this match. That’s it. I have the tactic to play this player. I have a few things how I would like to beat her. That’s it, basically.”

Sabalenka, who was the clear favorite on paper after already beating Pavlyuchenkova in Madrid, played a nearly flawless second set, having produced an astonishing 19 winners to just four unforced errors. However, she struggled to keep her form going as the numbers decreased to just six winners by contrast with seventeen unforced errors in the final set.

In her 52nd Grand Slam appearance, Pavlyuchenkova next will take on two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka, who eased past former Top 10 player Madison Keys 6-2, 6-2 in just 72 minutes to get into the Round of 16 in Paris for the first time since her 2013 semifinal run.

“I thought I played really solid,” Azarenka said following her win. “I felt I played very disciplined today. I played smart. I tried to be aggressive. My opponent, Madison, she really likes to dictate the points, so I tried to take that away from her, really step in, and make a lot of different balls so I’m pretty proud I was able to sustain my level.”

Heading into her fourth-round match-up, Azarenka leads the head-to-head series against Pavlyuchenkova 5-1, including two straight-set wins on clay.

On the men’s side, second seed Daniil Medvedev advanced to the fourth round with an impressive 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over World No. 35 Reilly Opelka. Medvedev hit 28 overall winners, including 10 aces, and broke the huge-serving American five times. Overall, Medvedev displayed a world-class performance on his returns, earning 38 per-cent of the first-serve points on Opelka’s serve.

The 25-year-old Russian, who was 0-4 at Roland Garros ahead before this year, has now won nine of 10 sets so far.