by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams was able to fight off a spirited attack from Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday at the French Open as she won their third round encounter, 6-4, 7-6(10).
Williams, who has been the No. 1 player in the world for the past 172 weeks, got the match started in a manner that most of her matches go, holding at love and forcing her opponent to stress in her first service game, winning the first six points of the match. Mladenovic, though, was able to fight for the hold and quickly turned the first set in her favor as she became the aggressor and was dominating the majority of the points, bringing the French crowd to life.
“I had not been playing my game. I was playing really defensive. It’s not me,” said Williams.
Mladenovic was able to take Williams to deuce in three of her last four service games in the set, having a look at four break points in that span.
Williams, being the fierce warrior that the tennis world has come to know, fought off all of that pressure and quickly applied it to Mladenovic as she served to stay in the first set at 4-5. Williams raced out to a 0-40 lead in the game, eventually converting on her third break point to close out the set with the only break of the match.
In the second set, Williams carried the momentum and played dominantly as she never fell behind in any of her service games. Playing so freely on her own serve, Williams continuously had looks to break Mladenovic’s serve, seeing nine in total in the set, but was unable to take advantage of any of them and was forced to play an epic tiebreak that lasted 19 minutes.
That tiebreak was put on hold for more than two and a half hours as a massive thunderstorm passed over Paris and delayed all play at Roland Garros. But once the rain had subsided and the courts were prepared for play again, the level of play from Williams and Mladenovic was just as high as it was before the rain came.
Mladenovic, the No. 26 seed, held leads at 3-0 and 5-2 in the tiebreak, but Williams was able to win four points in a row for a 6-5 lead and a match point. Mladenovic was able to save four match points, and had a set point of her own, but in the end, the 21-time major champion was too good and capitalized on her fifth match point to close out the two set win in over two and a half hours.
“I think she played well. I feel like I made a tremendous amount of errors, but I feel like she kind of forced me to,” said Williams, praising Mladenovic’s play.
Williams’ win sees her move into the fourth round of the French Open where only 16 women are left, and she will take on Elina Svitolina, the No. 18 seed.