PARIS, (Reuters) – Former world number one Serena Williams delivered a commanding performance to defeat German Julia Goerges 6-3 6-4 at the French Open yesterday, and set up a fourth-round encounter with her long-time rival Maria Sharapova.
Williams, playing her first Grand Slam following a maternity break, broke Goerges’ serve three times to secure the victory in an one hour and 15 minutes.
“Today, I was very solid,” Williams said after the match. “Goerges is a very difficult opponent. But I don’t know — I go, I play, and I win.”
The 23-time Grand Slam winner will next face Russian Sharapova, who recorded a comfortable 6-2 6-1 win over sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova.
Williams leads the head-to-head record against Sharapova, with 19 victories and just two defeats, and their last encounter – a straight-sets win for the American – took place in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals.
World number one Simona Halep booked her place in the second week of the tournament with a 7-5 6-0 win over German Andrea Petkovic, who was struggling with a knee injury.
Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza struck 15 winners on her way to a 6-0 6-2 victory over Australia’s Samantha Stosur.
Defending men’s champion Rafa Nadal turned in another ruthless display to beat French hope Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-2 6-2.
Nadal said he was pleased with the improving court conditions at Roland Garros, having earlier complained about the surface being slippery during his first-round victory.
“I think the courts are improving — that’s my feeling,” Nadal, who wrapped up a straight-sets win over Richard Gasquet in the third round, told reporters.
“The problem the first days, the gravel, I don’t know, from the back was coming up and then was mixed with the clay, so that was the problem. That’s why it was very slippery.
“I believe that every day the courts are (getting) better and better.”
Nadal extended his run of consecutive set wins at Roland Garros to 34. Only Sweden’s six-time champion Bjorn Borg, who won 41 consecutive sets on the Paris clay from 1979-81, has recorded a longer streak at the tournament.
Next up for Nadal is German youngster Maximilian Marterer, who will make his first round-of-16 appearance at a Grand Slam.
Ninth seed American John Isner has reached the fourth round to match his best performance in Paris, beating local hope Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6(1) 6-4 7-6(4).
Fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro reached the second week in Paris for the first time since 2012, defeating claycourt specialist Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-5 6-4 6-1.
French number one Caroline Garcia booked a place in the last 16 for a second consecutive year, beating Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-1 6-3.
Third seed Marin Cilic struck 35 winners one his way to a 6-3 6-2 6-4 win over American Steve Johnson.
The Croatian moved into the last 16 at a major for the 20th time and took sole ownership of the record for most round-of-16 appearances at a Grand Slam by a Croatian man.
Argentine Diego Schwartzman continued his steady progress with a 7-5 6-3 6-3 win over Croatian Borna Coric as the 11th seed reached the last 16 for the first time in five Roland Garros appearances.
Belgian Elise Mertens, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals earlier this year, produced a sublime display to beat 24th seed Daria Gavrilova 6-3 6-1 in 62 minutes.
Italian Fabio Fognini showed his incredible powers of recovery to edge 16th-seeded British number one Kyle Edmund 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 in a brutal 3-1/2 hour contest.
“I am very happy and pleased to have won, but now I am exhausted,” Fognini, seeded 18th, said.
“I’m into the last 16 at my favourite Grand Slam and must get ready for my next match. I’ll have a shower, have some food, and have a massage.”
Twice champion Sharapova put Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova’s serve under constant pressure, converting five break point opportunities to beat her 6-2 6-1 in the third round.
“I knew I was up against a very tough opponent,” the Russian said. “I was aggressive, played smart, did the right things and it got me through to reach the next round.”
Sharapova said she was ready for a potential last-16 clash against her long-time rival Williams, who has beaten the Russian in 18 successive encounters dating back to 2005.
“I think any time you play against Serena you know what you’re up against,” Sharapova, who scored a straight-sets win over sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, told reporters.
“You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
“By coming out in the match today and beating the No. 6 in the world, I might have the opportunity to do that.”
Third seed Garbine Muguruza said she finds another gear in her Grand Slam appearances as the Spaniard progressed to the second week at Roland Garros without dropping a set.
The Spaniard lifted the Suzanne Lenglen trophy in 2016 before winning her second major title at Wimbledon last year.
“I believe I can hold a trophy not only here — I believe I can do it in every tournament I play,” Muguruza told reporters.
“Of course here it’s so many matches. It’s a very long tournament. You don’t expect to play very good in tough matches in a Grand Slam, but I felt good today on the court.
“Once you have won Grand Slams, I mean, you have to prove that you can do it. It’s just the proof of it.”
U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens broke her opponent Camila Giorgi twice when on the brink of defeat in the final set before securing a 4-6 6-1 8-6 comeback victory.
Big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov secured a decisive break in the seventh game of the final set to beat local favourite Lucas Pouille 6-3 7-5 6-3 in a rain-delayed match.
Khachanov has reached the last 16 at Roland Garros for the second consecutive year and will now face second seed Alexander Zverev.