Returning three-time champion Serena Williams set up a highly-anticipated French Open last-16 match against long-time rival Maria Sharapova by beating Germany’s Julia Gorges. Williams, playing her first Grand Slam since giving birth, won 6-3 6-4 against 11th seed Gorges.
Earlier yesterday, Russian two-time winner Sharapova beat sixth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2 6-1. Williams, 36, and Sharapova, 31, will meet in the fourth round tomorrow.
Williams eased to victory over 29-year-old Gorges, who reached the world’s top 10 for the first time this year, in just one hour and 15 minutes.
The match between two of the sport’s biggest stars with 28 Grand Slam titles between them, plus personalities and marketability which have helped them transcend tennis was one of the most eye-catching permutations when the Roland Garros draw was made last week.
Spiky exchanges between the pair over the years have fuelled the narrative of a rivalry which, on court, has never been much of one.
Williams, a 23-time Slam champion, has won 19 of their 21 previous meetings on tour both of Sharapova’s wins coming back in 2004. “Any time you play against Serena you know what you’re up against. You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
I think there is a lot of things in her game that she’s done much better than I have. Numbers don’t lie.” Sharapova said.
Sharapova is competing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015, having been refused a wildcard entry in 2017 after serving a doping ban.
Williams, who was playing just her seventh match after returning from having a baby, has so far played down her chances of winning a joint-record 24th Grand Slam singles title.
But against Gorges she underlined her credentials, dominating from the start with a break in the fourth game and she took the first set with an emphatic smash. She got an early break in the second set too before the German staged a brief fightback to level at 2-2, but another Williams break in the next game put the match out of Gorges’ reach.
“It’s really special to be here again, This time last year I was pregnant and I was having a tough time and then I had a tough birth so every match at this stage of my return is a bonus.” Williams said.