Serena Williams survived a scare to extend her latest bid for an elusive 24th Grand Slam singles title with a three-set victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu on Wednesday while third seed Aryna Sabalenka won an all-Belarusian battle with Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-5, 6-3.

The 39-year-old Williams, a three-time champion in Paris, won 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.

The American, seeded seventh, will play compatriot Danielle Collins for a last-16 berth as she looks for a fourth French Open crown, but first since 2015.

“It was good competition, she was playing well and I was playing well,” said the former world number one, who has withdrawn injured mid-tournament on two of her last three visits to Roland Garros.

Williams started well on Wednesday with a comfortable opening set, but paid for missing seven of eight break points in the second as world number 174 Buzarnescu forced a decider in a match that thoroughly entertained the fans present.

But she double-faulted on break point in the first game of the third set and Williams relatively cruised to the finish line despite some tough rallies in the decider too. The former world number one, who has withdrawn injured mid-tournament on two of her last three visits to Roland Garros, will face fellow American Danielle Collins for a place in the last 16.

Williams has already seen two of her likeliest title rivals either fail to start the tournament or pull out in unprecedented circumstances.

World number three Simona Halep, who defeated Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final, withdrew before the event with injury. The biggest story of the week so far has been world number two Naomi Osaka’s shock withdrawal after fallout from a press boycott. Ana Bogdan got a walkover to the next round because of Osaka’s absence.

Also in the women’s draw, Swiss 10th seed Belinda Bencic failed to improve her poor French Open record as she lost 6-2, 6-2 to Russia’s Daria Kasatkina.

Bencic has still never made the fourth round in five appearances.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka set up a third-round tie against Madison Keys with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Denmark’s Clara Tauson.

The Belarusian’s best Roland Garros run was a semi-final appearance eight years ago and this is the first time she has made round three since 2015.

The United States’ Keys, who lost to Sloane Stephens in the 2018 last four, saw off Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-1, 7-5.

Sabalenka, after beating fellow Belarusian Sasnovich 7-5, 6-3, will next play Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

“I would say wasn’t great level from me today, but I’m really proud of myself that I was fighting no matter what,” said Madrid Open winner Sabalenka.


Second round

Serena Williams (USA x7) bt Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROM) 6-3, 5-7, 6-1

Danielle Collins (USA) bt Anhelina Kalinina (UKR) 6-0, 6-2

Elena Rybakina (KAZ x21) bt Nao Hibino (JPN) 6-3, 6-1

Elena Vesnina (RUS) bt Petra Kvitova (CZE x11) - walkover

Victoria Azarenka (BLR x15) bt Clara Tauson (DEN) 7-5, 6-4

Madison Keys (USA x23) bt Leylah Fernandez (CAN) 6-1, 7-5

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x31) bt Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 6-2, 6-3

Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x3) bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 7-5, 6-3

Tamara Zidansek (SLO) bt Madison Brengle (USA) 6-4, 6-1

Katerina Siniakova (CZE) bt Veronika Kudermetova (RUS x29) 7-6 (9/7), 5-7, 7-5

Sorana Cirstea (ROM) bt Martina Trevisan (ITA) 6-4, 3-6, 6-4

Daria Kasatkina (RUS) bt Belinda Bencic (SUI x10) 6-2, 6-2

Polona Hercog (SLO) bt Caroline Garcia (FRA) 7-5, 6-4

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE x20) bt Harmony Tan (FRA) 6-1, 6-3

Paula Badosa (ESP x33) bt Danka Kovinic (MNE) 6-2, 6-0

Ana Bogdan (ROM) bt Naomi Osaka (JPN x2) - walkover

With AFP Inputs