Defending champion Maria Sharapova reached the French Open fourth round on Saturday with a 6-1, 7-5 win over China’s Zheng Jie, despite an up and down center court performance.
The second seeded Russian will take on the US’ Sloane Stephens, who she beat comfortably on clay in Rome two weeks ago, for a place in the quarter-finals.
However, the 26-year-old Russian has work to do ahead of that encounter after dropping serve four times against Zheng and serving up eight double faults.
The pain of her 34 unforced errors was at least partially soothed by her 25 winners.
“I was lucky to get through that second set. I was a break down, so I am happy to pull it through in straight sets,” she said. “It’s not over until the last point is played and I felt like I was playing with a lot of energy out there.”
Sharapova, playing in her 11th French Open, had reached the third round for the loss of just nine games and seemed on course for another routine win on Saturday.
Four breaks of serve helped her to the first set as her 43rd-ranked opponent failed to hold serve once, while winning only nine points off the Russian’s serve.
However, two breaks took the 29-year-old from Chengdu out to a 4-1 lead in the second, before Sharapova turned up the heat again.
The champion pulled level at 4-4, pumping up the volume levels at the same time, only to hand Zheng the initiative again as the Chinese player broke for 5-4.
Zheng, who became the first Chinese woman to make the last 16 of a major when she played in the fourth round in Paris in 2004, was unable to serve out the set as Sharapova broke for 5-5.
The world No. 2 held for 6-5 and took the tie after 1 hour, 45 minutes, when Zheng netted a return.
Alize Cornet called Victoria Azarenka a “juggernaut” after the No. 3 seed recovered from a shaky start to mow her down in three sets.
The double Australian Open champion looked as if she was veering off the road as her title credentials were given a rigorous examination by the Frenchwoman, but she put her foot on the gas to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 and book her place in the last 16.
For large periods of the encounter, Cornet out-fought the Belarussian and looked much sharper around the court.
However, Azarenka’s consistency and greater firepower ultimately wore down Cornet.
“She’s a machine, a juggernaut,” Cornet said. “She plays the same from the first to the last point. It’s my feeling that I was knocked around everywhere by her topspin. What’s frightening is I dropped one or two games, but that’s enough for your head to go under the water.”
Cornet, seeded 31, took the first set and both players struggled to find consistency on their serve, frequently exchanging breaks, as the sun made a rare appearance at Roland Garros.
The pair then went toe-to-toe before Azarenka, who has never been past the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, found her rhythm and broke Cornet’s resolve, taking the second set and running away with the third.
Azarenka’s serve, in particular, let her down as she double-faulted 10 times and was broken on six occasions in the match.
“I really felt that I left my serve at home today, but if I can win serving like this, that’s pretty remarkable,” Azarenka said.
Azarenka will now face former champion Francesca Schiavone, who put in an eye-catching performance to beat France’s Marion Bartoli 6-2, 6-1.