Friday's French Open: Williams urges herself to erase deficit at French

Associated Press

Paris — Even a 23-time Grand Slam champion needs to remind herself now and then how to play winning tennis.

Serena Williams employed verbal motivation to help her recover from a 4-1 deficit in the second set of a 6-4, 6-4 victory over fellow American Danielle Collins in the third round of the French Open on Friday.

United States Serena Williams react as she plays against United States's Danielle Collins during their third round match on day 6, of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Friday, June 4, 2021.

Yelling, “C’mon,” and, “Move your feet,” Williams started dominating again with big serves and crushed returns that the 50th-ranked Collins had no answer for.

“That felt really good for me,” Williams said. “Things were not going my way. Its not like she gave me those games. I had to earn it and turn it around. That was really positive for me going into the next match.

“I needed to find me, know who I am,” Williams added. ”Nobody is Serena out here. It’s me. It’s pretty cool.”

The turnaround was also evidenced in Collins’ body language and conversations with herself. The Floridian, who grew up emulating the Williams sisters and playing on public courts just like they did, let her racket drop from her hands and then kicked it away in frustration after missing one particularly important shot.

Collins also sarcastically said, “That’s excellent,” after shanking another shot following a long rally that appeared to conclude with an awkward bounce in the final game.

The latest: Rafael Nadal advances on empty court, No. 1 Ash Barty retires from French Open

Stefanos Tsitsipas advanced with his 36th match victory of the year, the most on the men’s tour, and he eliminated the last American in the men’s draw. Seeded fifth, Tsitsipas rallied past No. 31 John Isner in a night match, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

U.S. men went 0-4 Friday, including big-serving Reilly Opelka's loss in straight sets to second-seeded Daniil Medvedev.

Russian player Yana Sizikova was released from police custody after being arrested on suspicion of match-fixing during last year’s tournament in Paris. The 26-year-old Sizikova denies the allegations.

Williams needed three sets to get by Mihaela Buzarnescu in the previous round and she clearly did not want to go the distance again this time. Even when a series of untimely double-faults early in the second set enabled Collins to win four consecutive games.

Williams’ determination was also witnessed during the first set, when she ran down a drop shot from behind the court and won the point to break for a 4-3 lead.

When it was done, Williams and Collins both smiled as they shared a friendly embrace at the net.

Collins said that she told Williams she would “love to see her win the whole thing.”

“She’s the greatest player of all time,” Collins added. “I think we all admire and love Serena, especially the American players. It was pretty surreal today to go out there and be playing against somebody I remember watching at age 9 and 10.”

More: Practice makes perfect: Serena's serve leads to win in Paris

Still chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, the 39-year-old Williams next faces 21st-seeded Elena Rybakina, who defeated Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-4 to reach the fourth round for the first time at a major.

Aside from Williams, top women’s players continue to exit Roland Garros.

The latest to go home was third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who was upset by Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 2-6, 6-0.

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

Sabalenka’s 39 unforced errors helped Pavlyuchenkova reach the fourth round for the first time since she made it to the quarterfinals in Paris a decade ago.

Pavlyuchenkova’s next opponent will be Victoria Azarenka, who beat 23rd-seeded Madison Keys 6-2, 6-2 in 70 minutes.

Home crowd now backs No. 2 Medvedev, because of French coach

Daniil Medvedev had never been past the first round at the French Open before.

And his surprise reward for reaching the fourth round now is that he's carrying the hopes of the French crowd.

Why?

Because there are no French players left in the men's or women's draw, and Medvedev happens to have a very successful French coach.

Russia's Daniil Medvedev waves to the crowd after defeating United States's Reilly Opelka during their third round match on day 6, of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Friday, June 4, 2021.

Gilles Cervara has helped the 25-year-old Russian win 10 titles on the ATP Tour and reach No. 2 in the rankings.

After Medvedev's 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win against American Reilly Opelka, he conducted his interview on Court Suzanne-Lenglen in French. He was told by the interviewer he'll now get huge support at Roland Garros because of Cervara.

More:Sponsors hail Naomi Osaka's 'courage' on mental health

The crowd then broke out into spontaneous chants of “Daniil, Daniil” and Medvedev, who speaks English and French fluently, waved and thanked them.

“I hope you will be with me up until the final,” he said, grinning. “Thanks for supporting me today.”

Big-serving and big-swinging, Medvedev has lost major finals — at this year’s Australian Open and the 2019 U.S. Open — on hard and fast surfaces.

Clay never suited him before, but people change.

“When I was young I never ate fish, like I hated it. Now I love tuna,” he said. "So, yeah, this year I’m enjoying myself in Roland Garros. I don’t hide it."

He next faces No. 22 Cristian Garin of Chile.

Cold feet

Tamara Zidansek might have been tackling the slopes at the Winter Olympics in snowboarding, rather than swinging a racket at Roland Garros.

There's a simple reason the Slovenian chose tennis instead.

“Because I was really cold snowboarding. Oh my God, I don’t like the cold weather at all," the 23-year-old Zidansek said after beating Katerina Siniakova 0-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

This is the farthest Zidansek has gone at any major tournament.

When she was growing up, she was far closer to snow than clay.

“We lived like 20 minutes away from a ski resort. It was just normal for us to go there every weekend,” Zidansek said. “It was fun to do at first, and then I saw an opportunity to make something out of (tennis). So I just went for it.”

Now she's one win away from the quarterfinals.

Sidelined

American Taylor Fritz says he’ll require surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, and he hopes to recover in time to play at Wimbledon.

Fritz was hurt on the final point of his second-round loss to Dominik Koepfer at the French Open, and he left the court in a wheelchair.

“I came down from a forehand on match point and heard a pop in my knee,” he said Friday on Twitter. “After that I could barely limp my way to the net to shake hands, and when I tried to stand back up I wasn’t able to.”

Fritz is ranked 33rd.

Frustrated Fognini

Fabio Fognini hurt himself with his hot temper during a third-round loss to Federico Delbonis.

The 27th-seeded Fognini required treatment from a trainer after bloodying his right hand -- his playing hand -- by punching his racket strings in frustration multiple times early in the second set of the 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 defeat.

That came after the Italian was warned by the chair umpire for foul language during the first set.

“Today I played poorly at tennis and he played well, and it’s only fair that I lost the match,” Fognini said.

Karen Khachanov was the victim of a similar incident on Wednesday, cutting his right middle finger by hitting his racket strings in anger during a five-set loss to Kei Nishikori.

Delbonis reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career, in his 27th major.