PARIS, June 4: Former world number one Victoria Azarenka reached the fourth round of the French Open for the first time since 2013 with a 6-2 6-2 victory against American Madison Keys on Friday.
The Belarusian, who reached a career-best semi-final at Roland Garros eight years ago, was a doubt for the claycourt Grand Slam after withdrawing from the Madrid Open last month with back pain, but she has been solid so far.
“Right from the beginning I knew there would be a lot of intensity, heavy balls. I tried to be solid and put pressure on her so she cannot dictate the points,” the 15th seed said in a courtside interview.
Azarenka broke for 3-2 on her third opportunity as Keys hit a backhand long and a passing shot winner earned her another break before she bagged the opening set on serve.
She stole her opponent’s serve twice again in the second set, keeping Keys on the back foot throughout.
With the top three seeds out after Ash Barty retired injured, Naomi Osaka withdrew and Aryna Sabalenka lost on Friday, the women’s draw is now wide open.
Azarenka next faces Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who sent packing third seed Sabalenka of Belarus earlier.
German sixth seed Alexander Zverev eased into the French Open last 16 for the fourth successive year on Friday with a straight-sets win over Serbia’s Laslo Djere.
The 24-year-old, last year’s US Open runner-up, saw off the 55th-ranked Djere 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier.
The comfortable nature of victory was welcome for Zverev, who had fought back from two sets down to beat unheralded compatriot Oscar Otte in round one before edging three tight sets against Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin.
“This is the main goal of my tennis career, to win Grand Slams, to reach the top of the rankings. I feel like the last year I’m on the right track again,” said Zverev, in the opposite half of the draw to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
He will next face former world number four Kei Nishikori, whose third-round opponent Henri Laaksonen retired injured following the opening set, for a quarter-final spot.
Rain briefly hit Roland Garros on Friday, but Zverev and Djere were able to continue under the Chatrier roof.
The world number six, who beat Nadal en route to the Madrid Open title last month, struck 31 winners and four aces past Djere.
He dragged himself out of difficulty in the second set, saving three set points at 3-5 down on Djere’s serve, but won 10 of the next 12 games.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori booked a place in the French Open last-16 on Friday when his Swiss opponent Henri Laaksonen retired with an injury after dropping the opening set 7-5.
After overcoming two brutal five-set encounters this week, Nishikori spent just 58 minutes on Court Simonne-Mathieu to ensure a safe passage to the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time since Wimbledon 2019.
World number 150 Laaksonen, playing in the third round of a major for the first time, appeared to have picked up a thigh injury early in the opening set and was forced to take an off-court medical timeout.
“I didn’t feel anything (in my) last matches. Yesterday on practice nothing. Today warmup nothing either. When I started the match, everything was fine,” Laaksonen told reporters.
“So then I went on the 2-1 game to the backhand corner and I tried to recover from there and then I felt pain on the adductor, abductor — I don’t know which one it is inside. I couldn’t move then anymore.”
The 29-year-old struggled to move around the court as Nishikori claimed the only break point of the set to take a 6-5 lead before rain halted play on the outer courts.
Shortly after the action resumed, Laaksonen conceded the opening set and decided against continuing the match.
Serena Williams sent out a warning to the rest of the depleted women’s draw on Friday with a dominant straight-sets win over Danielle Collins to reach the French Open last 16 for the first time since 2018.
The 39-year-old, still one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, saw off fellow American Collins 6-4, 6-4.
“Today it was very difficult, but I played well, stayed concentrated. I’m very happy,” said the three-time Roland Garros winner.
Williams is now the highest seed left in her half of the draw, with all of the world’s top four absent from the second week.
She will next face Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina, with a potential quarter-final against old rival Victoria Azarenka up for grabs.
Williams, seeded eighth, had a slight scare in the second set when she fell 1-4 behind against 2020 quarter-finalist Collins, but won the next five games to secure victory.
When Williams last made the fourth round three years ago, she withdrew injured before a scheduled clash with Maria Sharapova.
The former world number one also pulled out last year following the opening round, but she looks in strong form this time around, despite sporting some strapping on her right thigh.
Williams thundered down five aces and hit 22 winners against Collins, winning in just 85 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Daniil Medvedev wasted little time in booking his place in the French Open fourth round for the first time on Friday, brushing aside American Reilly Opelka in straight sets.
The Russian second seed, who had lost in the first round on each of his four previous French Open appearances, won the last-32 encounter 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
“I’m playing some great tennis,” said Medvedev. “I want to maintain my level and win more matches.”
The 25-year-old, a two-time Grand Slam runner-up, will take on either Marcos Giron of the United States or Chilean Cristian Garin in the last 16.
Medvedev started slowly against the 6ft 11in (2.11m) Opelka, falling 1-3 behind in the opening set, but broke his opponent five times from then on without facing another break point himself.
With no French players in the third round for the first time in the Open era, Medvedev, who speaks French and lived in the country as a youngster, received generous support from the home crowd. (Reuters/AFP)