French Open: Serena Williams comes through tough test against Kristina Mladenovic

The world No 1 emerged victorious and beat the local favourite 6-4, 7-6

Paul Newman
Tennis Correspondent in Paris
Saturday 28 May 2016 20:02
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Williams overcame the mental challenge of a long rain break
Williams overcame the mental challenge of a long rain break

Serena Williams is through to the fourth round of the French Open but the world No 1 had to survive her stiffest test yet as well as the mental challenge of a long break for rain before beating France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 7-6.

Mladenovic, a fierce competitor with a big game, pushed Williams hard in front of a crowd determined to give the local player huge support on Court Philippe Chatrier. The 23-year-old Frenchwoman had a point to level the match at one set apiece before Williams completed her hard-fought victory after two hours and 11 minutes.

This was not a match for the faint-hearted as both women can strike the ball with enormous power. Williams’ motivation was clear from her roars and celebrations on the big points, while Mladenovic demonstrated her mental strength by saving 11 of the 12 break points against her. Williams, nevertheless, was uncharacteristically cautious on some of the big points and did not always look at her best.

Mladenovic had three break points of her own when Williams served at 4-4 in the first set but was unable to take any of them. When the French No 1 served at 4-5 she went 0-40 down, saved two set points with a backhand winner and an ace but then missed a forehand to give Williams the set.

There were no breaks of serve in the second set, though Mladenovic twice held from 0-40 down. Rain started to fall just as the world No 30 prepared to serve to stay in the match at 4-5. She twice went within two points of defeat but held on each time and took the second set to a tie-break, at the start of which the players came off court as the rain became heavier.

The rain break lasted two hours and 40 minutes. Williams, who had dropped only five games in her first two matches here, went 5-2 down in the tie-break but then won four points in a row to go to match point.

However, Williams proceeded to miss four match points, the first when she hit a smash long, the second and fourth when Mladenovic hit forehand winners and the third after the American hit a forehand beyond the baseline.

Mladenovic had a set point of her own, which Williams saved with a volley winner, but her resistance finally ended on the world No 1’s fifth match point at 11-10, when the Frenchwoman put a forehand wide.

Williams said afterwards that she had been too defensive and had made far too many errors, but also paid credit to her opponent. “I felt like she forced me to go for it,” she said. “I didn’t play my usual game.”

Mladenovic pushed Williams hard in front of a supportive crowd

The world No 1 will next play Elina Svitolina, who beat Ana Ivanovic, the champion here eight years ago, 6-4, 6-4. Ivanovic had won all seven of her previous meetings with the Ukrainian but rarely looked in contention.

“It's really disappointing to finish in this manner,” Ivanovic said afterwards. “My forehand wasn't really working today. I was making a lot of errors.”

Svitolina, who had won only one match on clay this year before arriving here, is being helped by Justine Henin, who won this title four times. The world No 20, who is coached by Britain’s Iain Hughes, brought Henin in as a special consultant earlier this year. “Justine understands what I feel and that’s the main key,” Svitolina said.

Williams’ sister, Venus, also reached the fourth round at the expense of a local player, beating Alize Cornet 7-6, 1-6, 6-0. Williams, who at 35 is the oldest player in the women’s draw and is competing in her 19th French Open, now plays Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky, who reached the semi-finals last year.

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