Quick pep talk sparks Ser­ena

Coach’s wise words send Wil­liams into quar­ter-final

SundayXtra - - SPORTS - By Howard Fendrich

PARIS — Ser­ena Wil­liams was ahead, yes, but hardly at her best, when claps of thun­der and a heavy down­pour in­ter­rupted her third-round French Open match at a crit­i­cal junc­ture.

So dur­ing what turned out to be a de­lay of more than 2½ hours right be­fore a sec­ond-set tiebreaker Satur­day against 26th-seeded Kristina Mlade­n­ovic of France, Wil­liams met with coach Pa­trick Mouratoglou.

“I spoke 10 min­utes, which is far too long. Ac­tu­ally, at the end, I said: ‘Sorry. I spoke too long. Much too long.’ Be­cause a long speech is not a good speech; it has to be short and pow­er­ful,” Mouratoglou re­counted later. “My point was just to make her think the way she thinks when she’s good, when she’s play­ing like Ser­ena plays.” Did it work? “Just look at the score,” Mouratoglou said, “and, more than that, look at the way she did it.”

Com­ing out of the locker room de­ter­mined to dic­tate play more than she had been, Wil­liams edged Mlade­n­ovic 6- 4, 7- 6 (10), a vic­tory that set up a fourth-round matchup against a woman whose coach­ing con­sul­tant is the 34-year- old Amer­i­can’s for­mer ri­val, Jus­tine Henin.

“Up un­til that point, I had not been play­ing my game. I was play­ing re­ally de­fen­sive. It’s not me,” said the topseeded Wil­liams, who com­piled a 5-2 ad­van­tage in win­ners in the tiebreaker. “So I just wanted to be Ser­ena out there.”

Her sis­ter Venus, seeded No. 9, beat France’s Al­ize Cor­net 7- 6 (5), 1- 6, 6- 0 to reach the fourth round for the first time since 2010. An­other Amer­i­can, No. 15 Madi­son Keys, got that far at Roland Gar­ros for the first time with a 7- 6 (3), 6-3 vic­tory over Mon­ica Puig.

Quar­ter-final berths will be at stake in these matchups Mon­day: Venus vs. No. 8 Timea Bac­sin­szky, Keys vs. Kiki Bertens, No. 12 Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Yu­lia Putint­seva.

Next up for Ser­ena Wil­liams is No. 18 Elina Svi­tolina of Ukraine, who was 0-7 against Ana Ivanovic be­fore beat­ing the 2008 French Open cham­pion 6- 4, 6- 4.

Svi­tolina, 21 and the win­ner of the girls’ ti­tle in Paris in 2010, is 0-3 against Wil­liams. But the far more fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry­line in­volves Henin, a seven-time ma­jor cham­pion whose play­ing ca­reer ended in 2011 and who has been help­ing Svi­tolina with the men­tal as­pects of ten­nis for the past few months.

Wil­liams and Henin played each other 14 times (Wil­liams won eight, in­clud­ing the 2010 Aus­tralian Open final).

Their most in­fa­mous en­counter came at the 2003 French Open: there was a flap over whether Henin tried to call time; Wil­liams drew fans’ ire by ar­gu­ing line calls; Henin’s three-set vic­tory ended a 33-match Grand Slam win­ning streak for Wil­liams, who was jeered off the court, then teared up while talk­ing about it all.

Satur­day, Wil­liams de­flected a ques­tion about what it might be like to see Henin in a foe’s camp all these years later.

Try­ing to be­come the first woman to win con­sec­u­tive ti­tles at Roland Gar­ros since Henin took three in a row from 2005- 07, Wil­liams knows she will have to do a bet­ter job of cap­i­tal­iz­ing on chances than she did against Mlade­n­ovic, 23, who called it a dream to fi­nally get to play against some­one she grew up watch­ing on TV.

Wil­liams went only one for 12 on break points and needed five — yes, five — match points in the tiebreaker to close things out, eras­ing a set point for Mlade­n­ovic along the way.

“Barely get­ting through that — I had op­por­tu­ni­ties to end it a lot sooner,” Wil­liams said, “and I didn’t.”

In men’s ac­tion, No. 1 No­vak Djokovic fin­ished his 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 vic­tory over Al­jaz Be­dene just be­fore night­fall, while No. 6 Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga quit af­ter seven games against Ernests Gul­bis be­cause of an in­jured right leg. Other win­ners: No. 7 To­mas Berdych, No. 11 David Fer­rer, No. 12 David Gof­fin, No. 13 Do­minic Thiem and No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Thiem, 22, got past Alexan­der Zverev 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to close in on his first Grand Slam quar­ter­fi­nal.

While the draw set up a po­ten­tial fourth-round match for Thiem against Rafael Nadal, the nine-time French Open cham­pion’s with­drawal Fri­day be­cause of an in­jured left wrist means that a far less daunt­ing op­po­nent awaits.

In­stead, Thiem faces 56th-ranked Mar­cel Gra­nollers, who never has reached a ma­jor quar­ter-final, ei­ther.

“Against Rafa, I’m the un­der­dog,” Thiem ac­knowl­edged. “Against Gra­nollers, I’m prob­a­bly the favourite.”

CHRISTOPHE ENA / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ser­ena Wil­liams lets loose a roar in her third-round match against France’s Kristina Mlade­n­ovic Satur­day at Roland Gar­ros.

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