Wil­liams wins; Shara­pova out; Djokovic-Nadal on tap


For the third match in a row at the French Open, Serena Wil­liams was oddly out of sorts at the out­set and dropped the open­ing set.

And for the third match in a row, al­most as though this was the plan all along, Wil­liams righted her­self to pull out a victory.

In a riv­et­ing, two-hour show­down be­tween the last two Amer­i­can women in the draw, the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Wil­liams was a game away from de­feat Mon­day, then came back to beat Sloane Stephens 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Wil­liams reached the quar­ter­fi­nals and avoided join­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Maria Shara­pova on the way out of Roland Gar­ros.

“It’s not how you start, I guess. It’s how you fin­ish,” Wil­liams said. “That’s kind of how I’m look­ing at it.”

Close as it was, thanks in large part to Wil­liams’ 43 un­forced er­rors, more than twice as many as Stephens’ 21, the even­tual out­come seemed cer­tain once Wil­liams pulled even by tak­ing the sec­ond set.

That’s be­cause she is 10-0 three-set­ters this sea­son.

Wil­liams is 29-1 over­all in 2015 and owns an 18-match Grand Slam win­ning streak, in­clud­ing cham­pi­onships at the U.S. Open and Aus­tralian Open that gave her 19 ma­jor sin­gles tro­phies.

The 1999 U.S. Open, when she col­lected her first ma­jor ti­tle, is the only other time Wil­liams came back to win three straight matches af­ter los­ing the first set, ac­cord­ing to the WTA.

“There’s a rea­son,” said Stephens,

in de­feated in the French Open’s fourth round for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year, “why she’s the No. 1 player in the world.”

Ei­ther Wil­liams, in 2013, or Shara­pova, in 2012 and 2014, has won the French Open the past three years. Only Wil­liams has a chance to do it again on Satur­day be­cause the sec­ond-seeded Shara­pova was out­played through­out a 7-6 (3), 6-4 loss to 13th-seeded Lu­cie Sa­farova.

“My op­po­nent had a dif­fer­ent gear than I did,” Shara­pova said af­ter her ear­li­est exit at Roland Gar­ros since 2010.

Shara­pova did not use the cold she’s been deal­ing with as an ex­cuse, say­ing: “I don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t think it re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence.”

In her first French Open quar­ter­fi­nal, Sa­farova will face No. 21 Gar­bine Mugu­ruza of Spain, who beat No. 28 Flavia Pen­netta of Italy 6-3, 6-4.

On a day full of ten­nis’ big­gest names, the Big 4 of the men’s game — Roger Fed­erer, No­vak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Mur­ray — all won. The top-seeded Djokovic and nine-time French Open cham­pion Nadal will play in the quar­ter­fi­nals Wed­nes­day, a re­match of last year’s fi­nal.

Nadal elim­i­nated the last U.S. man, Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, while Djokovic had no trou­ble in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over Richard Gas­quet.

Fed­erer needed about an hour to fin­ish his 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Gael Mon­fils in a match suspended be­cause of dark­ness af­ter the sec­ond set Sun­day. Fed­erer next faces Swiss Davis Cup team­mate Stan Wawrinka, and Mur­ray will play 2013 French Open run­ner-up David Fer­rer.

Wil­liams’ quar­ter­fi­nal op­po­nent is 2012 run­ner-up Sara Er­rani, a 6-2, 6-2 win­ner over Ju­lia Go­erges.

The win­ner of Wil­liams-Er­rani will go up against some­one mak­ing her Grand Slam semi­fi­nal de­but, be­cause it’ll ei­ther be 23rd-seeded Timea Bac­sin­szky of Switzer­land — who sur­prised two-time Wim­ble­don cham­pion Petra Kvi­tova 2-6, 6-0, 6-3 — or 100th-ranked Alison Van Uyt­vanck of Bel­gium.

The 40th-ranked Stephens, who is 22, knew she could com­pete with the 33-year-old Wil­liams, hav­ing de­feated her in the 2013 Aus­tralian Open quar­ter­fi­nals.

Be­fore tak­ing the court Mon­day, Stephens shared a mo­ment in the hall­way with her coach, Nick Sa­viano. They bumped fists, and he pat­ted her on the right shoul­der.

When play be­gan, Stephens won the first two games with­out the ben­e­fit of a sin­gle win­ner. Wil­liams kept right on miss­ing, much as she did early against 105th-ranked An­naLena Fried­sam in the sec­ond round and for­mer No. 1 Vic­to­ria Azarenka in the third.

“I feel like I’m living on the edge,” Wil­liams said. “But, you know, I’ve got to get off the edge.”

Af­ter one fore­hand landed in the net, she looked down at the ground and said, “Oh, no.” Af­ter an­other did the same, she let out an “Aaaaah!” of de­spair. A later mis­cue prompted Wil­liams to twirl her racket over­head, as if to mock her poor swing.

Stephens led 5-4 in the sec­ond set, a game from victory. From there, Wil­liams won nine of the fi­nal 12 games.

“I don’t re­ally like to live like this,” Wil­liams said. “Be­lieve me, I’m think­ing, ‘ OK, Serena, pull your­self to­gether.’”

(Left) Ser­bia’s No­vak Djokovic re­turns the ball to France’s Richard Gas­quet dur­ing their fourth-round match of the French Open ten­nis tour­na­ment at the Roland Gar­ros sta­dium in Paris, Mon­day, June 1. (Right) Spain’s Rafael Nadal re­turns in the fourth-round match of the French Open ten­nis tour­na­ment against Jack Sock of the U.S. at the Roland Gar­ros sta­dium, Mon­day.


Maria Shara­pova re­turns a shot at the French Open on Mon­day, June 1.


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