Serena edges Azarenka in French Open’s 3rd round

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY HOWARD FENDRICH

At the out­set, Serena Wil­liams was gri­mac­ing and curs­ing and, worst of all, los­ing by a lot.

Then, sud­denly, the 19-time Grand Slam sin­gles cham­pion was putting shots right where she wanted, im­pos­ing her will as only she can. And the only anger Wil­liams dis­played was di­rected at her op­po­nent, Vic­to­ria Azarenka, while they traded ges­tures and words over the chair um­pire’s de­ci­sion to re­play a key point.

By the end, when she was ag­gres­sively grab­bing the fi­nal six games and 10 of the fi­nal 12, all that re­ally mat­tered was that the No. 1-ranked Wil­liams was not go­ing to let this one get away. Wil­liams erased deficit af­ter deficit and beat for­mer No. 1 Azarenka 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 Satur­day in a thir­dround French Open match filled with mo­men­tum swings and one GIF-ready con­tentious ex­change.

Af­ter­ward, Wil­liams told the Court Philippe Cha­trier crowd: “I don’t want to lose.”

Rarely does. Wil­liams is 26-1 in 2015, 9-0 in three-set­ters. The Amer­i­can im­proved to 50-11 at Roland Gar­ros, mak­ing her the first woman since 1968, when Grand Slam tour­na­ments ad­mit­ted pro­fes­sion­als, to have that many wins at each ma­jor.

She’s never been as com­fort­able or con­fi­dent on the French Open’s dusty red clay as with grass or hard courts un­der­foot, ex­it­ing in the sec­ond round last year and the first in 2012. She only has been past the quar­ter­fi­nals once in the past 12 years in Paris — in 2013, when she won her sec­ond French Open ti­tle.

Com­pare that to the 33-yearold’s tro­phies else­where: six apiece from the Aus­tralian Open and U.S. Open, five at Wim­ble­don.

Azarenka owns a pair of Aus­tralian Open tro­phies. She also was twice a U.S. Open fi­nal­ist, but lost each to Wil­liams, who has won 16 of their 19 matchups. They tend to be close as can be: This month on clay in Madrid, Wil­liams won af­ter Azarenka dou­ble-faulted three times while serv­ing for the match.

So maybe that col­lapse and Satur­day’s, when Azarenka led by a set and 4-2 in the sec­ond, are an in­di­ca­tion that Wil­liams holds an edge in more than shot­mak­ing. She pro­duced nearly twice as many win­ners as Azarenka, 41 to 21.

On the last point of the sec­ond set, Azarenka hit a shot that landed near the base­line. Wil­liams net­ted a re­sponse at about the same time an “out” call came. Chair um­pire Kader Nouni de­cided the point should be re­played, which Azarenka dis­puted. She and Wil­liams wound up look­ing at each other, and Azarenka waved her hand, as if to say, “Eh, never mind.” Wil­liams then ap­peared to tell Azarenka not to wag her hand.

Azarenka, who still was steamed about Nouni’s rul­ing af­ter the match, lost the re­played point, giv­ing Wil­liams the set, and was warned for a vis­i­ble ob­scen­ity.

Azarenka headed to a bath­room break. When she re­turned, she took a 2-0 lead in the third set.

Wil­liams wouldn’t drop an­other game.

The two are friends away from the court, and Azarenka said later: “We don’t have any air to clear. But I gave her a pair of my shorts be­cause she re­ally liked them. True story.”

In the fourth round, Wil­liams will face the other re­main­ing U.S. woman, 40th-ranked Sloane Stephens.

The most sig­nif­i­cant victory of the 22-year-old Stephens’ ca­reer came when she reached her only Grand Slam semi­fi­nal by beat­ing Wil­liams at the 2013 Aus­tralian Open. Later that year, Stephens found her­self in a bit of a brouhaha over less- than- flat­ter­ing com­ments she made to a re­porter about Wil­liams.

Other fourth-round matchups: No. 4 Petra Kvi­tova vs. No. 23 Timea Bac­sin­szky, No. 17 Sara Er­rani vs. Ju­lia Go­erges, and 93rd-ranked Alison Van Uyt­vanck vs. 100th-ranked An­dreea Mitu.

Men’s fourth-round pair­ings: Nine-time cham­pion Rafael Nadal against 37th-ranked Jack Sock, the only Amer­i­can man left; No. 1 No­vak Djokovic against No. 20 Richard Gas­quet, No. 3 Andy Mur­ray against Jeremy Chardy, and U.S. Open cham­pion Marin Cilic against No. 7 David Fer­rer.

Djokovic and Mur­ray ad­vanced with straight-set vic­to­ries over a pair of young Aus­tralians seen by many as part of the next wave of ten­nis stars. Their day might come, but no Satur­day.

Mur­ray won his 13th con­sec­u­tive match by elim­i­nat­ing brash 20-year-old Nick Kyr­gios 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, while Djokovic stretched his win­ning streak to 25 matches on all sur­faces by de­feat­ing 19-yearold Thanasi Kokki­nakis 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Af­ter wast­ing a pair of break chances, Kyr­gios mut­tered: “What are you do­ing out here? Go gar­den­ing or some­thing!”

AP

Serena Wil­liams of the U.S. re­turns in the third round match of the French Open ten­nis tour­na­ment against Vic­to­ria Azarenka of Be­larus at the Roland Gar­ros sta­dium in Paris on Satur­day, May 30.

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