Sharapova, Nadal stay on course

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Maria Sharapova edged closer to a possible French Open last-16 duel with Serena Williams as top seed Simona Halep and 2016 winner Garbine Muguruza breezed into the third round
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Two-time champion Maria Sharapova edged closer to a possible French Open last-16 duel with old rival Serena Williams yesterday as top seed Simona Halep and 2016 winner Garbine Muguruza breezed into the third round where they were joined by men’s world No. 1 and defending champion Rafael Nadal.

Sharapova, the 2012 and 2014 champion in Paris, needed five match points to see off Croatia’s Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4 in a tie which featured 10 breaks of serve.

Former world No. 1 Sharapova, seeded 28 this year, will face Karolina Pliskova for a place in the fourth round.

“She’s playing great,” Sharapova told Eurosport Russia of the Czech sixth seed, a player she defeated in their only previous meeting in the 2015 Fed Cup final. “She won a big title in Stuttgart, so I have to be ready for this match and I’ll be ready.”

Serena is a possible opponent but the three-time champion still has her second round to play against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty yesterday.

Nadal, meanwhile, bludgeoned his way into the third round with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 defeat of outclassed Argentine Guido Pella.

With rain showers forecast at Roland Garros the 31-year-old wasted no time on Court Suzanne Lenglen after saving four break points in the first game against the 78th-ranked Pella.

Once that early danger had been snuffed out Nadal offered up a masterclass against his fellow left-hander and his forehand was too hot for Pella to handle.

The Spanish world No. 1 has now won his last 27 sets at Roland Garros, having captured a 10th title last year without dropping a set.

Next in the firing line for Nadal is Frenchman and friend Richard Gasquet.

Sharapova is playing Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.

The 31-year-old was serving a doping ban in 2015 and was refused a wildcard by Roland Garros organizers last year.

Williams is a three-time champion in Paris and playing her first Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open.

All eyes will again be on her striking black catsuit which dominated headlines after her first-round win over Kristyna Pliskova and has caused some to question whether or not it’s legal.

Manufacturer Nike insisted yesterday that the suit, which Williams claims helps prevent the return of blood clots which put her life in danger after giving birth to her daughter in September, will get another airing on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Williams, 36, who is ranked 451 after her lengthy absence, defeated Barty in their only previous meeting, needing less than an hour to secure a straight sets win at the 2014 Australian Open.

Halep reached the third round with a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 win over Taylor Townsend of the United States.

Halep, twice a runner-up in Paris, will next face Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.

Petkovic was a semifinalist in 2014 and was once ranked in the top 10 but has slipped to 107 after an injury-blighted few seasons.

Spanish third seed Muguruza, the 2016 champion, was too strong for France’s No. 257 Fiona Ferro 6-4, 6-3.

“She was unknown to me. It’s always tricky when you face a French, a young, talented player,” said Wimbledon champion Muguruza.

Men’s challengers Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem struggled into the last 32.

Third seed Cilic reached the third round for the eighth time with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-7 (3), 7-5 win over Polish qualifier and world No. 188 Hubert Hurkacz.

Former US Open champion Cilic, who reached the quarterfinals in Paris last year, will face American Steve Johnson.

Seventh seeded Thiem, a semifinalist in 2016 and 2017, racked up his 31st win of the year.

The Austrian, the only man to beat Nadal on clay this year, saw off Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a match which had been suspended overnight after the third set. Next up for Thiem is Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.

Highly-rated Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov was beaten by Germany’s Maximilian Marterer 7-5, 6-7 (4), 5-7, 4-6.

World No. 70 Marterer, 22, has now reached the third round at successive Grand Slam events and will face Estonian lucky loser Juergen Zopp.


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