French Open 2021: Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka & Aryna Sabalenka through

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Seventh seed Serena Williams moved into the French Open third round after overcoming Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu in a challenging three-set win.

Williams, 39, won 6-3 5-7 6-1 to set up a meeting in the last 32 with fellow American Danielle Collins.

Russia’s Daria Kasatkina delivered a surprise when she knocked out Swiss 10th seed Belinda Bencic.

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka, 15th seed Victoria Azarenka and 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova are also through.

Smiling Serena pleased with tough win

Williams is again going for a 24th major title to equal Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record, although her latest attempt for history comes at a place where she has not progressed past the fourth round since 2016.

Clay is not considered her best surface, despite being a three-time singles champion at Roland Garros, and she has played little on the red dirt since returning from maternity leave in 2018.

Yet the talent which has made her one of the sport’s greatest players was enough to eventually see off Buzarnescu in a competitive and entertaining match.

Williams looked sharper in the first set than she did in her opening win, dominating on serve and hitting fewer unforced errors than against first-round opponent Irina-Camelia Begu.

Buzarnescu is ranked 174th in the world and playing on a protected ranking after injury, but she presented a stern challenge for Williams as she demonstrated the ability which helped her rise to 20th in 2018.

After being edged out of the opener, Buzarnescu was rewarded with the second set before Williams nicked two tight games at the start of the decider to take control.

“She has a lot of skills and plays well on this surface in particular so I knew it would not be easy. I’m happy to get through that,” Williams said.

“It was good competition, she was playing well and I was playing well. It was fun.

“It is always good when you enjoy your job, you smile. That’s rare for me. I love my job but I don’t smile too much on the court. I was excited to be out here.”

‘I play better in the morning’

Daria Kasatkina
Daria Kasatkina reached the French Open quarter-finals in 2018

Kasatkina, 24, cruised through in straight sets against her good friend Bencic, winning 6-2 6-2 in one hour and 16 minutes in the opening match on Court Simonne Mathieu.

“For me, it is better to play in the morning when the ball is bouncing better,” the world number 37 said.

“I think today it was a very important point, because I like it when the ball bounces higher, [but] Belinda doesn’t.”

Kasatkina will now face Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, who backed up her opening win over Britain’s Johanna Konta by beating Italian Martina Trevisan 6-4 3-6 6-4.

Belarus’ Azarenka won 7-5 6-4 against Danish teenager Clara Tauson, setting up a third-round meeting with 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys, who beat Canadian 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez 6-1 7-5.

Azarenka, 31, is aiming to go past the third round at Roland Garros for the first time since reaching the 2013 semi-finals.

Sabalenka, who is also Belarusian, won 7-5 6-3 against another compatriot Aliaksandra Sasnovich, while Czech 20th seed Vondrousova came through in quick fashion, beating France’s Harmony Tan 6-1 6-3 in 62 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the women’s doubles, the intriguing partnership of Coco Gauff and Venus Williams fell at the first hurdle as they lost 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-3 to 13th seeds Ellen Perez and Saisai Zheng.

There are 23 years between 17-year-old Gauff and 40-year-old Williams and the teenager thrust herself into the spotlight at Wimbledon two years ago when she beat the seven-time Grand Slam singles champion in the first round.

Gauff also beat her idol at last year’s Australian Open but despite the pair taking the opening set to huge cheers from the crowd, they could not keep the momentum to go any further at the tournament together.

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