Returning three-time champion Serena Williams set up a highly-anticipated French Open last-16 match against long-time rival Maria Sharapova by beating Germanyâ€™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 worldâ€™s top 10 for the first time this year, in just one hour and 15 minutes.
The match between two of the sportâ€™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 Sharapovaâ€™s wins coming back in 2004. â€œAny time you play against Serena you know what youâ€™re up against,â€ Sharapova said. â€œYou 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.
â€œI think there is a lot of things in her game that sheâ€™s done much better than I have. Numbers donâ€™t lie.â€
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 Gorgesâ€™ reach.
â€œItâ€™s really special to be here again,â€ said Williams. â€œThis 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.â€