PARIS – Serena Williams came up well short this fortnight in her bid to tie the record for most Grand Slam women’s singles titles, falling to countrywoman Sofia Kenin 6-2, 7-5 in third-round action Saturday at the French Open.
Williams was out of sorts on Court Philippe-Chatrier, showing glimpses of her overpowering arsenal of weapons but also lots of signs of rust stemming from her recent lack of tournament play.
Even so, it took a strong performance from the 20-year-old Kenin to take advantage of her opportunity against the American great, who is a dangerous opponent no matter the circumstances.
Kenin earned the first service break of the match midway through the first set and then staved off a break point in the following game to grab a 4-2 lead.
The Russian-born world No. 35 finished off the set two games later by winning her fourth straight deuce-ad game, a stretch in which Williams looked visibly frustrated at some balls that clipped the lines.
Kenin also grabbed a 2-0 lead at the start of the second set before Williams started clawing her way into the match.
The 37-year-old American, who has been battling a knee injury and is currently ranked No. 10, won four of the next five games to grab a 4-3 lead and heap pressure on her relatively inexperienced opponent.
But Kenin showed plenty of competitive mettle as well, refusing to back down and keeping her nerve in a testy final game to clinch the victory in one hour and 32 minutes.
Williams, who will have to wait until Wimbledon to try to equal Australian Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam women’s singles titles, acknowledged that she is short on competitive matches but praised her opponent’s play.
“I just think that the player I played today, she just played literally unbelievable,” Williams was quoted as saying on the WTA Tour’s Web site. “She really went out there today and did great.”
Next up for Kenin in the round of 16 will be Australian world No. 8 Ashleigh Barty, who continued to breeze through the draw with a 6-3, 6-1 victory Saturday over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.
Japanese world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, winner of the past two Grand Slam tennis events, also fell victim to an upset on Saturday, losing to Czech Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 6-2.
Next up for Siniakova will be American Madison Keys, a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 winner over Russia’s Anna Blinkova, with the winner of that contest to take on either Kenin or Barty in the quarterfinals.
In other third-round women’s singles action Saturday, Romanian world No. 3 and defending French Open champion Simona Halep strolled past Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-1 to set up a fourth-round match against Polish teenage sensation Iga Swiatek, who rallied from a dreadful start to defeat Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig 0-6, 6-3, 6-3.
The Halep-Swiatek winner will take on either rising American star Amanda Anisimova or Spain’s Aliona Bolsova, who both recorded straight-set victories on Saturday.
In men’s singles action Saturday, Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic brushed aside Italy’s Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 and will next play Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, who outlasted Croatia’s Borna Coric 4-6, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (1), 11-9.
The Djokovic-Struff winner will square off against either Italian world No. 12 Fabio Fognini or German world No. 5 Alexander Zverev. Fognini defeated Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (5), 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 on Saturday, while Zverev held off Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2.
In third-round action Saturday in the second quarter of the men’s singles draw, Austrian world No. 4 Dominic Thiem defeated Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 and will next take on Frenchman Gael Monfils, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 winner over countryman Antoine Hoang.
Argentine world No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro, meanwhile, routed Australia’s Jordan Thompson 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 to set up a fourth-round clash against Russia’s Karen Khachanov, who brushed aside Slovak Martin Klizan 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
Two third-round men’s singles matches in the bottom half of the draw that were postponed due to darkness on Friday were concluded on Saturday.
Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 Roland Garros champion, finished off a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8) victory over Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, and Greek rising star Stefanos Tsitisipas edged Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6).