Sat, Jun 02, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Williams fights back as Nadal, Sharapova cruise

AFP, PARIS

Russia’s Maria Sharapova serves to Croatia’s Donna Vekic in their French Open women’s singles second-round match in Paris on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Serena Williams on Thursday battled back from a set and break down to defeat Australia’s Ashleigh Barty 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the French Open third round.

The three-time champion and former world No. 1, dressed again in her all-black catsuit, is playing her first Grand Slam since winning last year’s Australian Open while two months pregnant.

Williams, seeking a 24th Grand Slam title, is to face Germany’s Julia Goerges for a place in the last 16.

If she advances past the third round, Williams could face old rival Maria Sharapova for a place in the quarter-finals.

“It’s just incredible,” she said. “I am so happy to be back here. I lost the first set and thought: ‘I must try harder, I must try harder,’ and then Serena came out.”

Williams had cruised through her opening-round match against Kristyna Pliskova in what was a record 317th win at the Grand Slams.

However, Thursday was a tougher proposition for the 36-year-old American, who was playing just her sixth match of this year.

Williams once again appeared in her striking, all-black catsuit.

However, her game failed to match her impressive outfit in the first set, where she was broken in the sixth game by the Australian.

Barty wrapped it up when Williams netted a weary-looking forehand, her 12th unforced error of the set.

Williams hit just three winners in the opener, while 22-year-old Barty could afford to bide her time: just two winners and four unforced errors.

The American was a break down again after dropping serve in the opening game of the second set.

However, just as the half-full crowd enjoying the late-evening sunshine in Court Philippe Chatrier anticipated a quick kill, Williams came storming back, reeling off four straight games for 4-1.

A fifth ace of the contest won her the set.

A break in the third game of the decider proved crucial and Williams, now ranked No. 451 in the world, claimed victory on a second match point with a sweeping, running forehand.

Sharapova, the champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014, saw off Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4 in a tie that featured 10 breaks of serve and secured on a fifth match point.

Former world No. 1 Sharapova, seeded 28th this year, is to face Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova for a place in the fourth round.

“She won a big title in Stuttgart, so I have to be ready for this match and I’ll be ready,” Sharapova said of Pliskova, who she defeated in their only previous meeting in the 2015 Fed Cup final.

The Russian star is playing in Paris for the first time since a quarter-final run in 2015. She served a doping ban in 2016 and was refused a wild card last year.

Ten-time champion Rafael Nadal breezed into the third round and a clash against childhood friend Richard Gasquet.

Top seed and world No. 1 Nadal, chasing an 11th title, swept past Argentine Guido Pella 6-2, 6-1, 6-1, showing no signs of the brief struggles he faced in the first round against lucky loser Simone Bolelli.

The 31-year-old is next to face home favorite Gasquet, his old junior rival who Nadal has beaten 15 times in as many meetings in professional tennis.

Top seed Simona Halep reached the third round with a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 win over Taylor Townsend of the US.

Halep, twice a runner-up in Paris, is to face Germany’s Andrea Petkovic for a place in the last 16.

Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, was too strong for French No. 257 Fiona Ferro 6-4, 6-3.

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