After two days of upsets, Serena Williams brought a modicum of calm to the Olympic tennis event after battling past Alize Cornet in straight sets to reach the third round at Rio 2016.
The world No 1 had lost her last three encounters with Cornet but kept her dream of retaining her singles gold medal alive on Monday night, fighting through a topsy-turvy opening set before seeing off the Frenchwoman 7-6(5), 6-2 in an hour and 55 minutes.
“It was big motivation because I haven’t done well against her in the past,” said Williams, referring to losses against Cornet at Dubai, Wimbledon and Wuhan in 2014.
“She always says she knows how to play me and every time I play her I’m not in my best shape, which is ironic. I really wanted to play well because she always seems to play well against me.”
Though Williams avoided an upset, Monday wasn’t without its drama. Fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga fell in straight sets to Gilles Muller and Monica Puig took out 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, while Madison Keys only narrowly survived a three-hour-14-minute marathon against Kristina Mladenovic.
“Never a doubt. I knew I had it from the start,” joked Keys afterwards, adding: “That was really tough. It was emotional. I was so happy I could stay competitive and still be in the match when I had that opportunity at the end to take the last couple of points of the tiebreaker.”
No 4 seed Kei Nishikori didn’t have it all his own way in the last match of the day but, despite trailing by a break of serve in both sets, ultimately closed out straight sets win over John Millman.
“I think I was hitting too many unforced errors, especially in the first set, and I tried to play more patient and more safely,” said Nishikori. “He was hitting some great shots. It wasn’t an easy match but I think in some moments I raised my level really well and concentrated well.”
Earlier on Centre Court, Juan Martin del Potro backed up his stunning opening round triumph over world No 1 Novak Djokovic by seeing off Joao Sousa 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to set up an unexpected third-round match with Japan’s Taro Daniel.
Though far less emphatic than his crushing win over Djokovic less than 24 hours earlier, a tiring Del Potro still fired 33 winners – including 16 off his mighty right flank – to record consecutive match wins at Tour-level for only the fifth time this year.
“At the end, the match was complicated and my legs were heavy,” admitted the Argentine. “Last night I went to bed at 4:30 in the morning. Today I was having breakfast at nine o’clock. I still can’t believe I beat Djokovic and won again so soon.”
With Prince Albert of Monaco watching on from the Centre Court stands, Angelique Kerber produced a regal display against Eugenie Bouchard to snap a three-match losing streak against the Canadian and earn a place in round three. Kerber, who has won the Australian Open and reached the Wimbledon final this year, is living up to her billing as second seed in Rio, rallying back from 4-1 down in the opening set to defeat Bouchard 64 62.
“I am No 2 in the world and that means a lot to me and gives me a lot of confidence,” said the German, a quarterfinalist at London 2012. “I am trying to enjoy every single moment on court here because it is really special.”
There were also routine wins for No 3 seeded Garbine Muguruza, No 9 Carla Suarez Navarro, No 11 Petra Kvitova, who eased past Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-4, and No 13 Sam Stosur. Johanna Konta, the No 10 seed, also won on an otherwise tough day for Great Britain, which saw Heather Watson lose to Elina Svitolina and Kyle Edmund beaten by Taro Daniel before Konta and Watson fell to Hao-ching Chan and Yung-jan Chan in a three-set doubles.
It was a similarly tough day for Philipp Kohlschreiber and Monica Niculescu, who were both forced to withdraw ahead of their second round singles matches due to foot and lower back injuries, respectively, while Lucie Safarova also called it quits with stomach pain after losing the opening set 6-2 against Venus Williams’ conqueror, Kirsten Flipkens.
Kohlschreiber, who has had a bone bruise on his right foot for several weeks, conceded a spot in the third round to Slovakia’s Andrej Martin after an MRI scan revealed a stress fracture that could sideline him for the next six to eight weeks.
“The doctor said that I really should stop right away and I have to rest and make sure it doesn’t become a really big injury,” said Kohlschreiber. “I came here for my first Olympic Games with a very open and positive mind and so far the experience has been really great – sleeping in the village, seeing all the other athletes, having a good time. Of course, now it is hard to describe this feeling, ending with a very sad and serious injury.”
Seeded men Roberto Bautista Agut, Marin Cilic and Gael Monfils also won on Monday, with the latter two set to square off in round three in only their second career encounter – and first since 2009, when Monfils won a three-set quarter-final in Paris.
– African News Agency