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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

French Open: Third seed Sabalenka out; Serena powers past Collins to reach last-16

After the exits of Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka was the highest seed remaining in Paris but she succumbed to a 4-6, 6-2, 0-6 third-round defeat to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

By: Reuters |
Updated: June 5, 2021 7:52:08 am
Aryna Sabalenka reacts during her French Open third-round defeat. (Reuters)

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka crashed out of the French Open with a 4-6 6-2 0-6 third-round defeat to Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Friday, leaving the women’s draw without its top three seeds at the claycourt Grand Slam.

After the exits of Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka, the Belarusian was the highest seed remaining this week in Paris but she failed to keep a leash on her unforced errors to lose to the experienced 29-year-old Russian.

Sabalenka got off to a rollicking start for a 3-0 lead but her unforced errors abruptly mounted and Pavlyuchenkova won six of the next seven games to bag the set.

The 23-year-old hammered a flurry of winners to take four games in a row to win the second set and level the match before Pavlyuchenkova went off the court for medical attention, returning with her left thigh heavily strapped.

The injury seemed to have made no difference to Pavlyuchenkova’s game as she handed a bagel to her opponent in the decider to set up a meeting against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

Serena powers past Collins to reach last 16

Serena Williams powered confidently into the fourth round of the French Open with a 6-4 6-4 defeat of fellow American Danielle Collins on Friday as the draw opened up enticingly.

The 39-year-old seventh seed produced a calm and composed display against a dangerous opponent and is now the highest-ranked player left in the bottom half.

Williams, seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, but first since 2017, will play Kazakhstan’s 21st seed Elena Rybakina for a place in the quarter-finals.

A hard-hitting contest featured 40 winners and the opening games included a barrage from both players with Collins clearly deciding her best policy was to fight fire with fire on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Collins saved three break points at 1-1 from 0-40 but found herself in trouble again at 3-3 and this time Williams angled away a volley after being dragged in by a dropshot.

Again Collins showed guts to save a set point at 3-5 and Williams then wobbled serving at 5-4 with consecutive double faults before recovering to seal the opener with an ace.

When Williams broke at the start of the second set it looked as though she might race away with the contest but 50th-ranked Collins found another gear to reel off four games in a row as the errors began creeping into the Williams’s game.

Trailing 1-4 Williams responded by raising the decibel level, scolding herself even after winning points, and suddenly she began firing on all cylinders again.

The 27-year-old Collins began to look ragged and dropped serve to love at 4-4 before Williams claimed victory to reach the last 16 in Paris for the 13th time.

Azarenka in fourth round for first time in eight years

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.

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.

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