PARIS (Reuters) - Serena Williams proved that her absence from the game has not dimmed her appetite for success as she fought back from a set and a break down to beat 17th seed Ashleigh Barty 3-6 6-3 6-4 at the French Open on Thursday.
Williams, competing in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open and taking a maternity break, was far from her best against the Australian, but showed supreme fighting spirit to secure safe passage into the third round.
Elsewhere in the women’s draw, top seed Simona Halep saw off American Taylor Townsend 6-3 6-1 to set up a third-round clash with German Andrea Petkovic.
Twice champion Maria Sharapova cruised past Croat Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4 and will meet sixth seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the third round.
In the men’s draw, Rafa Nadal’s bid for an 11th French Open title gathered pace as he breezed past Argentine Guido Pella 6-2 6-1 6-1 in the second round.
The Spaniard wrapped up the match in just under two hours and will next face Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who beat Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri 6-2 3-6 6-3 6-0.
“We’ve known each other since 11 or 12 years old and grown up together, so it’s going to be a great pleasure to play against (Gasquet),” Nadal said.
Third seed Marin Cilic had a tough outing against Pole Hubert Hurkacz but prevailed 6-2 6-2 6-7(3) 7-5, while big-serving Argentine fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro also progressed, beating home hope Julien Benneteau 6-4 6-3 6-2.
Highlights from day five of the French Open tennis championships on Thursday (all times GMT):
German Julia Goerges, the 11th seed, beat Belgian Alison van Uytvanck 7-5 7-6(5) to set up a third round clash with Serena Williams. The American has won both of their meetings, including a 6-1 6-1 victory over Georges at Roland Garros in 2010.
Serena Williams recovered from a set down to beat Australian Ashleigh Barty 3-6 6-3 6-4 and book a place in the third round.
The American struck nine aces and 28 clean winners against the 17th seed, but the 36 unforced errors Serena made showed she was still a bit rusty after her long absence from the game.
French number one Caroline Garcia battled past China’s Peng Shuai 6-4 3-6 6-3 to reach the third round where she will meet Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, who beat China’s Zhang Shuai 6-3 6-4.
Fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro struck 44 winners on his way to a 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory over French veteran Julien Benneteau, who made his final appearance at his home Grand Slam.
“It wasn’t easy for me to play a guy like Julien in Paris,” Del Potro said. “I’m so proud of him, he made a fantastic career. I should stop speaking, it’s Julien’s time.”
Big-hitting Argentine Diego Schwartzman, seeded 11th, continued his steady progress with a 6-1 6-3 6-1 win over Czech Adam Pavlasek in the second round.
Top seed Rafa Nadal, chasing his 11th title at Roland Garros, marched into the third round with a 6-2 6-1 6-1 win over Argentine Guido Pella.
Nadal will next face Frenchman Richard Gasquet who the Spaniard has beaten in all their previous 15 meetings.
“Richard is a good friend, I’ve known him since we were 11, 12 years old,” the Spaniard said. “It’s the most important court (Philippe Chatrier) of my career without a doubt, and for him a special place too.”
World number one Simona Halep was not playing her best tennis but still found a way past American Taylor Townsend 6-3 6-1.
The Romanian, twice runner-up at Roland Garros, will meet Andrea Petkovic of Germany in the third round.
1505 POUILLE READY FOR “SPECIAL” KHACHANOV CLASH
Home favourite Lucas Pouille held off a spirited comeback from Briton Cameron Norrie to beat him 6-2 6-4 5-7 7-6(3).
Pouille will next face Russian Karen Khachanov, who teamed up with the French number one for doubles action in Madrid and Rotterdam this season.
“It’s quite special. But we’re used to it, because we know each other,” Pouille told reporters.
“So I don’t think it’s going to be very different from the other matches. And it’s true that we train a lot together. We played doubles together in Marseille and Dubai practically back to back with four days in between.
“It’s going to be a difficult match. He’s a very good player. He’s in full progression and very confident.”
Khachanov edged Pouille over three sets during their last meeting in the final at Marseille in February.
Two-time champion Maria Sharapova needed five match points to see off Croatia’s Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4 in the second round.
The Russian will next face sixth seed Karolina Pliskova, who beat fellow Czech Lucie Safarova 3-6 6-4 6-1.
Kyle Edmund, the last Briton standing in the singles, recovered from a mid-match blip to beat Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 6-0 1-6 6-2 6-3.
“(The second set) is something to learn from but I’m happy to come through,” Edmund said.
“When I’m playing at my best it’s very good but I can’t play like that the whole time. When I’m not playing my best, I have to find a way to win. This year I’ve done that a lot better.”
Edmund will face 18th seed Italian Fabio Fognini in the third round.
Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov was disappointed after his French Open debut ended in the second round but he remains pleased with the progress made this season.
“Not every week is going to be the same,” he said after a 5-7 7-6(4) 7-5 6-4 defeat to Germany’s Maximilian Marterer.
“You run into guys that are playing well, playing hot. You know, in Madrid it was me; today it was Max.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the loss, but like I said, I’m only 19, so not every week is going to be a semi-finals of, you know, of a big tournament.”
Third seed Marin Cilic experienced a difficult test after wasting a match point in the third set against qualifier Hubert Hurkacz, but did enough to win 6-2 6-2,6-7(3) 7-5.
The Croat will next face American Steve Johnson, who also needed four sets to beat Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.
Belgium’s 16th seed Elise Mertens cruised past Britain’s Heather Watson 6-3 6-4 to match her best Roland Garros performance by reaching the third round for the second year in a row.
Former champion Garbine Muguruza, seeded third, looked in fine form as she eased past French wildcard Fiona Ferro 6-4 6-3.
“The French Open is ‘that’ tournament for me, it’s special, I’m so motivated and I’m so happy,” Muguruza, the 2016 winner, said after the match.
She moves into the third round for the fifth consecutive year, where she will face 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur of Australia.
Compiled by Hardik Vyas, Shrivathsa Sridhar and Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris