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French Open 2021: Serena Williams reaches fourth round as draw opens up

PARIS (Agencies): Serena Williams remains the highest seed in her half of the French Open draw after a dominant third-round victory against Danielle Collins.

The American seventh seed beat compatriot Collins 6-4 6-4 and will face Kazakhstan’s 21st seed Elena Rybakina next.

Williams, 39, is one of just four top 10 seeds left in the women’s draw after Aryna Sabalenka lost earlier on Friday.

The Belarusian third seed was beaten 6-4 2-6 6-0 by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Williams is bidding to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam triumphs, but has not made it past the fourth round at Roland Garros since 2016.

Why are there so few top-10 players left in the women’s draw?

Not since 2001 have so few top-10 seeds reached the women’s third round at Roland Garros, although there are varying reasons behind the absence of so many top stars heading into the second week.

In addition to the high-profile withdrawals of Ashleigh Barty and reigning US and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, for injury and mental health reasons respectively, world number three Simona Halep pulled out pre-tournament with a calf problem.

On court, Sabalenka joined a casualty list featuring Karolina Pliskova, Bianca Andreescu and Belinda Bencic that, in addition to an injury for 11th seed Petra Kvitova, has opened the draw up considerably.

An unseeded quarter-finalist is guaranteed in the bottom half of the draw with Tamara Zidansek – who beat Katerina Siniakova 0-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 – set to meet Romania’s Sorana Cirstea in the last 16.

While that should aid Williams in her efforts to make Grand Slam history, the American is also arguably housed in the most difficult quarter of the draw.

Should she negotiate her way past Rybakina, the 39-year-old would then face two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka or Pavlyuchenkova in the quarter-finals.

Azarenka, the 15th seed, dominated Madison Keys 6-2 6-2 to reach the last 16.
Williams recovers from second-set stutter to win

There was little to separate the two Americans in the opening games, but characteristically powerful serving eventually put Williams in control.

The three-time French Open champion served five aces in the first set – work somewhat undone by two double faults – and an impressive cross-court volley earned her a break to go 4-3 up.

Williams held on from there to take the first set and was given a helping hand as 27-year-old Collins’ level dipped at the start of the second set, handing her an early break.

But double faults crept back in on Williams’ serve and as a result she gave away two games to the world number 50, who was playing her first tournament since undergoing surgery for endometriosis in April.

From 4-1 down, an increasingly fired-up Williams won the next five games to secure a fourth-round spot at a Grand Slam for the 64th time in her career.

Williams’ fourth-round opponent Rybakina claimed a comfortable 6-1 6-4 victory over Elena Vesnina earlier on Friday.

The American’s serve will be put to the test against the 21-year-old, who herself hit 12 aces in the third round and did not face a single break point.

Frustrated Sabalenka falls to shock defeat

Pavlyuchenkova, 29, has never been beyond the quarter-final of a Grand Slam but the Russian 31st seed came from 3-0 down to win the first set against Sabalenka.

The world number four – who has won five titles in Doha, Ostrava, Linz, Abu Dhabi and Madrid in the past 18 months but is yet to make an impact at a major – broke Pavlyuchenkova twice to take the second set.

But Sabalenka became increasingly erratic and frustrated after Pavlyuchenkova took an injury break for treatment to her thigh, failing to win a single game in the deciding set and hitting 39 unforced errors overall.

Defending champion Iga Swiatek, Elina Svitolina and American Sofia Kenin are the three top-10 seeds left in the top half of the draw, with all three playing their third-round matches on Saturday.