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French Open Tennis • Wrap • WTA Ladies • Serena To Play Maria @ Roland Garros

Serena Williams of the USA plays Ashley Barty of Australia during their women’s second round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 31 May 2018. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON



With rain and darkness postponing the Parisian evening play on day six as it so often does at Roland Garros, day seven was set up to be a dramatic day of tennis on the women’s side, with intriguing matchups all over the Saturday slate. Day seven at the French Open did not disappoint as the two biggest stories of the day, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, impressed in strong third round showings, setting up a blockbuster round of 16 battle come Monday.


For Sharapova, the marquee match of the day between the two-time former champion in Paris and sixth-seed Karolina Pliskova saw an absolute domination by the Russian, thumping the powerful Czech 6-2, 6-1. Playing the cleanest and most straightforward match of her comeback so far, the five-time major winner overpowered and out-willed Pliskova, blasting 18 winners to the Czech’s five and breaking the usually dominant serve of the former US Open runner-up a staggering five times throughout the just 59 minute contest.


“Well, the return, as I said in my previous press conference, it was a big part of getting in the point, and, you know, not giving her too many free points and giving her confidence from the baseline after that,” explained Sharapova. “So I thought I did a really good job of, you know, being aggressive on the return, giving her different looks on the return.”


“And, yeah, I was solid. I played smart. I think I did the right things, I was aggressive on the break points, I went for it. I took the match rather than her giving it to me,” said the former world number one.


Sharapova has been resurgent in the last month on the dirt, finding her powerful game again with runs to the quarterfinals in Madrid and semifinals in Rome. The win over Pliskova today on Court Philippe Chatrier marked her third win over a top 10 opponent since her comeback to tennis last April.


“It’s always, you know, I guess these are the types of occasions where you want to play really good, solid tennis against a top-10 player that’s been playing extremely well. You know, when you’re able to deliver that on a Grand Slam stage, I think it makes it extra special,” commented the Russian, who was in a jubilant mood following such an impressive, big-stage performance.


“But of course, I came into Europe and Stuttgart with not a great record, not playing great tennis with a lot of injuries, and have been able to turn that around a little bit. Been able to put myself in this position of playing better tennis.”


“That’s what I continue to work for, of course. You don’t put those hours on the back courts in Bradenton-fricking-Florida to — you know what I mean — to just show up at events like this and not bring it,” said an excited, but not satisfied yet, Sharapova with that steely conviction of a champion in her eyes.


Sharapova will have to bring it big time on the Grand Slam stage in her next match against her biggest rival and toughest opponent, 23-time major winner Serena Williams.


For Serena, the new mom and American legend came into this year’s French Open as the biggest story and also the biggest question mark, unseeded, unsure of her form, and many unsure how far she’d advance in her first major in 18 months on her worst surface in Paris. Williams has answered those questions with flying colors so far and there’s no reason to think she won’t continue to get better as she faces someone she’s dominated throughout her career, chasing major title number 24. Serena came into Paris looking to play her way into the tournament, as she so often has, and with each passing round she looks closer to Grand Slam winning form.


In her third round, the new wife and mother SERENA shined on Court Suzanne Lenglen, crushing groundstrokes against big-hitting German Julia Goerges, standing out on a beautiful Parisian evening in her bold Nike catsuit, a statement to all women who have struggled giving birth.


The legendary American may have suffered complications giving birth to her first child, Olympia Ohanian, in September, but in just her third competitive tournament back, Williams is already starting to look like her Grand Slam winning self. The three-time French Open champion powered past Goerges 6-3, 6-4, striking 20 winners to just 12 unforced errors, looking good for another deep run, possibly a title one, on the major stage.


“There is still a ways to go, but it’s moving in the right direction. And I think that as long as it’s moving in the right direction, I know I will get there, and I feel like every match I play I’m getting better and I’m playing tougher opponents and I’m hanging in there, and I feel like it’s going to hopefully keep going,” explained Williams when asked how she would gauge the progress in her game.


Maria Sharapova of Russia plays Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic during their women’s third round match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 02 June 2018. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

“Well, quite frankly, she’s [Maria] probably a favorite in this match (smiling), for sure. You know, she’s been playing, like I said, for over a year now. I just started. So I’m just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go,” said Serena about her upcoming match with Sharapova.


“But I think this will be another test. I think this is just one of her best surfaces, and she always does really, really well here. So this would be a good opportunity for me kind of to see where I am and just hopefully continue to go forward,” commented Serena as she’ll look for win number 20 over her great rival.


While Serena and Maria dominated the headlines on day seven at Roland Garros, one of the tournament favorites, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, was upset against big-hitting Estonian Anett Kontaveit 7-6, 7-6, while defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens battled past hard-hitting Italian Camila Giorgi 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 to book their spots in the second week at Roland Garros.


2016 champion Garbine Muguruza also cruised past 2010 finalist Samantha Stosur 6-0, 6-2 in dominant fashion on Court Philippe Chatrier while last year’s runner-up and top seed Simona Halep kept cruising against former semifinalist Andrea Petkovic 7-5, 6-0.


The bottom half of the women’s draw will be back in action Sunday for the first day of round of 16 action, seeing Stephens and Kontaveit return to the court to face off while the highest seed remaining in the wide-open bottom half, reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, will look to make a career-best run in Paris towards a potential final.

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