Serena, Sharapova look to edge closer to last-16 clash

Paris: Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are both back in action at the French Open on Thursday looking to reach the third round, while Rafael Nadal continues his bid for an 11th title.

Here are three matches to watch at Roland Garros on Thursday:

Serena Williams (USA) v Ashleigh Barty (AUS x17)
— Having previously not played a Grand Slam match since the 2017 Australian Open final, Williams will step out on court at the French Open for the third straight day when she faces Australian Barty on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The 23-time major champion grabbed headlines as much for her attire as for her play as she beat Kristyna Pliskova in the first round on Monday, before donning the eye-catching catsuit again the following day in a doubles victory alongside older sister Venus.

World number 17 Barty reached the semi-finals in Nuremberg last week, but her season has been unspectacular and a fully fit Serena would expect to win comfortably. But the former world number one has only played five singles matches since giving birth to her daughter and may need to move up a gear from her victory over the 70th-ranked Pliskova.

Rafael Nadal (ESP x1) v Guido Pella (ARG)
— Nadal’s search for a stunning 11th title will continue with a rare appearance on Court Suzanne Lenglen against Argentinian Guido Pella. The top seed struggled at times against Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli in the first round — saving four set points to avoid dropping a set at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.

The great Spaniard has only ever played world number 78 and his fellow left-hander Pella once, winning 6-3, 6-2 at Indian Wells last year.

Nadal brushed off any thoughts that he could become complacent on clay, saying: “Not gonna happen, and there is a proof that that’s never happened, that I won 10 times here, 11 Monte-Carlo, 11 Barcelona, eight Romes.

“Was able to do all these results because I respect the sport, I respect every opponent, and I respect the competition every day.”

Maria Sharapova (RUS x28) v Donna Vekic (CRO)
Two-time champion Sharapova had to dig very deep to edge out little-known qualifier Richel Hogenkamp in the third set in the first round, and will need to improve against dangerous 21-year-old Croatian Donna Vekic to extend her first French Open campaign since 2015.

Sharapova and Serena are only two wins each away from possibly facing off in a heavyweight fourth-round showdown, although the Russian may have to get past sixth seed Karolina Pliskova in the last 32.

The 31-year-old Sharapova, seeded 28, has never faced the 50th-ranked Vekic before.

Agence France-Presse