Serena Williams weathers storm at French Open


Nick McCarvel, Special for USA TODAY Sports
5:43 p.m. EDT May 28, 2016

Serena Williams advanced to the fourth round in straight sets.

PARIS – Serena Williams survived the rain – and a pesky opponent – Saturday at the French Open, needing five match points in a dramatic finish to advance to the fourth round.

Williams, the world No. 1 and defending champion, overcame Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 7-6(10) after a nearly three-hour rain delay here Saturday afternoon, which led to power outages around the grounds.

TV viewers in the U.S. watched from a single fixed angle high above the court as the tournament struggled to regain full support for its rights holders.

Mladenovic came out firing after the rain delay, jumping to a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak as her compatriots roared their support. Williams would have her first of five match points at 6-5, however, winning four consecutive points before she botched an overhead out of the air and over the baseline.

From there it was peak melodrama, Williams undone again and again by the Mladenovic drop shot and the Frenchwoman using her arms to whoop up the crowd in her favor. On the final point of the match, however, the 23-year-old would strike a forehand wide, sending Williams into the fourth round.

Williams struggles for much of the second set, never breaking Mladenovic in nine chances, including two love-40 games on Mladenovic’s serve.

Elina Svitolina, a 21-year-old Ukrainian, awaits Williams in the fourth round, Svitolina having beaten former Roland Garros champion Ana Ivanovic in the third round for the first time in eight tries, 6-4, 6-4. Svitolina is advised by Justine Henin, a former Williams rival and particular nemesis on the clay courts.

Williams led her head-to-head 8-6 against Henin, though the Belgian won both meetings here, including an infamous 2003 semifinal.

Venus Williams joined her sister in the fourth round for the first time since 2010, the 35-year-old recovering from a shaky second set to beat home hope Alize Cornet 7-6(5), 1-6, 6-0. Williams will next face Timea Bacsinszky, a 2015 semifinalist here, in the fourth round.

Earlier Bacsinszky advanced, beating Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-2. No. 12 seed Carla Suarez Navarro and Yulia Putintseva also won, setting a fourth round face off.

Another semifinalist from last year, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was not as lucky, the Frenchman forced to retire leading Ernests Gulbis 5-2 in the first set. Tsonga was out with a leg injury.

Fast-rising 22-year-old Dominic Thiem won a battle between two next-generation stars on the men’s circuit, holding off good friend Alexander Zverev 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Thiem will now meet Marcel Granollers in the fourth round, the Spaniard who received a walkover after Rafael Nadal’s shock withdrawal on Friday due to a left wrist injury.

In the locker room, Nadal’s exit from the tournament was a surprise, though not a total shock, said defending champion Stan Wawrinka late on Friday.

“It’s not a total surprise in the sense that we all saw photographs where he was touching his wrist or his wrist was hurting. It was no big secret,” said Wawrinka, who is into the fourth round. “But then again, it is a surprise because no one knew how much it hurt (Nadal). It’s unfortunate for the tournament, for the fans, for tennis.”

American John Isner is the lone U.S. man remaining at a Slam once again, and he’ll take on No. 2 Andy Murray in the fourth round, Murray leading their head-to-head 5-0. 2001 was the last time two U.S. men reached the second week here, when Andre Agassi was joined by Michael Russell.

The schedule for later Saturday included world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, 2015 semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, American Madison Keys as well as Venus and Serena in doubles, scheduled last for Court 2.

While Serena Williams made a furious comeback in the second set tiebreak, her team was busy, too. Just in front of the Williams camp’s player box a small fire broke out, smoke rising from next to a fans’ chair, most likely from a cigarette. Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, helped douse the fire with smoke. It did not hinder the match.

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