Sabalenka upset, Serena into second week at French Open

Published June 5, 2021
PARIS: Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka hits a return to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia during their third-round match at the French Open on Friday.
— AFP
PARIS: Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka hits a return to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia during their third-round match at the French Open on Friday. — AFP

PARIS: The early departure of seeded players in the women’s tournament continued at the French Open as third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka was upset by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Friday in the third round of the clay-court Grand Slam.

The women’s side at Roland Garros is now without its top three seeds after Sabalenka lost 6-4, 2-6, 6-0.

Sabalenka had been the highest remaining seed after top-ranked Ash Barty retired from her second-round match injured on Thursday. Second-seeded Naomi Osaka withdrew after the first round, saying she is taking a break from competition for mental health reasons.

The fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin is now the highest-seeded player in the fray and faces Jessica Pegula on Saturday.

Pavlyuchenkova had lost to Sabalenka in straight sets in the Madrid semi-finals last month. This time, she made the most of her rival’s erratic display Sabalenka hit 39 unforced errors to reach the fourth round for the first time since she made it to the quarter-finals in Paris a decade ago.

“That was a while ago,” the 31st-seeded Pavlyuchenkova said. “I’m enjoying much more now every point [in] the tough matches than I used to before. I guess that also [is] the reason why I’m still here in the second week.”

Her next opponent will be Victoria Azarenka, who beat 23rd-seeded Madison Keys 6-2, 6-2 in 70 minutes. The two-time Grand Slam champion reached the fourth round for the first time since her semi-final run in 2013.

Serena Williams continued her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title by reaching the second week for the first time since 2018, the veteran American as the highest-ranked player in her half of the draw.

Three-time Roland Garros champion Serena came through a potentially tricky third-round tie with compatriot Danielle Collins, winning 6-4, 6-4.

She will next face Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina, with a possible quarter-final against old rival Azarenka up for grabs.

The 39-year-old Serena, still one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of most Grand Slam singles titles, thundered down five aces and struck 22 winners past Collins.

“Today it was very difficult, but I played well, stayed concentrated. I’m very happy,” said Serena, who fought back from 1-4 down in the second set.

Men’s second seed Daniil Medvedev was adopted as the new home favourite by the French crowd as he eased to a straight-sets win over the United States’ Reilly Opelka on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The two-time Grand Slam runner-up, who speaks French and lived in France as a youngster, impressed in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 success.

Medvedev had lost all four of his previous French Open matches before this week, but received generous support from the fans, with no French players in the third round for the first time in the Open era.

The Russian will face Cristian Garin for a last-eight spot after the Chilean beat US player Marcos Giron 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.

German sixth seed Alexander Zverev needed five sets to beat unheralded compatriot Oscar Otte in the first round before edging Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin in three tight sets.

He cruised to a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win over Laslo Djere on Friday, though, setting up a last-16 clash with former world number four Kei Nishikori.

Nishikori reached the fourth round when opponent Henri Laaksonen retired injured after dropping the first set.

The short outing would have been a relief for Japan’s Nishikori, who spent more than eight hours on court over the first two rounds.

Early in the afternoon, play was interrupted by rain on all courts besides the main stadium where the roof was closed. Federico Delbonis said the interruption helped him calm down after stress started to get hold of him toward the end of the second set of his match with Fabio Fognini.

Delbonis took a quick shower and eventually prevailed 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam for the first time.

Fognini required treatment from a trainer after bloodying his hand by punching his racket strings in frustration multiple times early in the second set.

Following a marathon five-set battle, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina upset 15th-seeded Casper Ruud 7-6 (3), 2-6, 7-6 (6), 0-6, 7-5 in 4 hours, 35 minutes. In the final game that lasted 16 minutes, Davidovich Fokina hit an effective underhand serve to save a break point. Ruud appeared surprised by the serve and had to scramble to get in position for a backhand return that he netted.

Results (prefix number denotes seeding):

Men’s singles:

Third round: 6-Alexander Zverev (Germany) bt Laslo Djere (Serbia) 6-2, 7-5, 6-2; Kei Nishikori (Japan) bt Henri Laaksonen (Switzerland) 7-5 — Laaksonen retired; Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (Spain) bt 15-Casper Ruud (Norway) 7-6 (7-3), 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 0-6, 7-5; Federico Delbonis (Argentina) bt 27-Fabio Fognini (Italy) 6-4, 6-1, 6-3; 12-Pablo Carreno-Busta (Spain) bt Steve Johnson (US) 6-4, 6-4, 6-2; 22-Christian Garin (Chile) bt Marcos Giron (US) 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2; 2-Daniil Medvedev (Russia) bt 32-Reilly Opelka (US) 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Women’s singles:

Third round: 7-Serena Williams (US) bt Danielle Collins (US) 6-4, 6-4; 21-Elena Rybakina (Kazakhstan) bt Elena Vesnina (Russia) 6-1, 6-4; 15-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) bt 23-Madison Keys (US) 6-2, 6-2; 31-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt 3-Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) 6-4, 2-6, 6-0; Tamara Zidansek (Slovenia) bt Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic) 0-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2; Sorana Cirstea (Romania) bt Darya Kasatkina (Russia) 6-3, 6-2.

Thursday’s remaining results:

Men’s singles:

Second round: 3-Rafael Nadal (Spain) bt Richard Gasquet (France) 6-0, 7-5, 6-2; Carlos Alcaraz (Spain) bt 28-Nikoloz Basilashvili (Georgia) 6-4, 6-2, 6-4; Jan-Lennard Struff (Germany) bt Facundo Bagnis (Argentina) 7-5, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.

Women’s singles:

Second round: 8-Iga Swiatek (Poland) bt Rebecca Peterson (Sweden) 6-1, 6-1.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2021

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