Rafael Nadal will not compete at Wimbledon or the Olympic Games as he bids to prolong his prolific career.

The 20-time grand slam champion was knocked out of the French Open at the semi-final stage by eventual winner Novak Djokovic.

And, with just a two-week gap to the grass-court slam in London, the 35-year-old has opted against taking part at the All England Club or the Games in Tokyo.

"Hi all, I have decided not to participate at this year's Championships at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games in Tokyo," the Spaniard tweeted.

"It's never an easy decision to take but after listening to my body and discuss it with my team I understand that it is the right decision.

"The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy, that is to compete at the highest level and keep fighting for those professional and personal goals at he maximum level of competition."

Nadal explained that the quick turnaround from a gruelling campaign in Paris to another tough schedule at Wimbledon presented too much of a risk to his fitness.

"The fact that there has only been two weeks between RG [Roland Garros] and Wimbledon didn't make it easier on my body to recuperate after the always demanding clay court season," he said.

"They have been two months of great effort and the decision I take is focused looking at the mid and long term.

"Sport prevention of any kind of excess in my body is a very important factor at this stage of my career in order to try to keep fighting for the highest level of competition and titles.

"I want to send a special message to my fans around the world, to those in the United Kingdom and Japan in particular.

"The Olympic Games always meant a lot and they were always a priority as a Sports person, I found the spirit that every sports person in the world wants to live. I personally had the chance to live 3 of them and had the honor to be the flag bearer for my country."

Nadal is a two-time Wimbledon champion and took gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Rafael Nadal will not compete at Wimbledon or the Olympic Games as he bids to prolong his prolific career.

The 20-time grand slam champion was knocked out of the French Open at the semi-final stage by eventual winner Novak Djokovic.

And, with just a two-week gap to the grass-court slam in London, the 35-year-old has opted against taking part at the All England Club or the Games in Tokyo.

"Hi all, I have decided not to participate at this year's Championships at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games in Tokyo," the Spaniard tweeted.

"It's never an easy decision to take but after listening to my body and discuss it with my team I understand that it is the right decision.

"The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy, that is to compete at the highest level and keep fighting for those professional and personal goals at he maximum level of competition."

Stefanos Tsitsipas "could easily have cried" after seeing his French Open dream crushed by Novak Djokovic but insists there is "no reason" he cannot be a future champion.

In his first grand slam final, the 22-year-old looked to be cantering to victory when he moved two sets up against the world number one.

However, much as he did in his fourth-round win over Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic left the court before the start of the third set and returned a different competitor, going on to win 6-7 (6-8) 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 after more than four hours on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Tsitsipas had little answer to the resurgent Djokovic, who became the first male player in the Open era to win every grand slam at least twice as he moved onto 19 in his career, one behind record-holders Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Tsitsipas struggled to answer why his game began to let him down in the final three sets as he cut a disconsolate figure when speaking to the media afterwards.

"I felt like my rhythm was off [after the second set]," he said. "I really don't know why. It was very strange considering that I started finding my rhythm, finding my shots, my movement on the court was perfect, and suddenly just felt cold and out of it.

"It was difficult to readjust. I felt like I kind of lost my game a little bit. I really wish I could understand why things like this happened and evolved. But I was trying to figure it out during my game. It was difficult to come up with something.

"It's very unfortunate, very sad in the same way because it was a good opportunity. I was playing good. I was feeling good. Yeah, I lost an opportunity to do something better today.

"What I learned today is that no matter what, in order for the match to be finished, you have to win three sets and not two. Two sets doesn't really mean anything. It's still one away [from] winning the entire match."

Tsitsipas admitted Djokovic seemed rejuvenated as the third set got underway, saying: "He left the court after two sets to love down, I don't know what happened there, but he came back to me like a different player suddenly.

"I don't know. I have no idea. He played really well. He gave me no space. [I] felt physically, anticipation maybe, just movement on the court, everything felt much more fresh and much better than before. I kind of felt like he could read my game a bit better suddenly. Good for him. He did well to get there."

Tsitsipas, who will move to number four in the world after reaching the final, is one of the prime contenders to lead the way when the so-called 'big three' finally call time on their careers.

The Greek beat Roger Federer at the 2019 Australian Open and Rafael Nadal in Melbourne this year, while he has twice beaten Djokovic at Masters 1000 events.

"I believe, yes, I'm able to play for titles like this," he added. "Despite my loss today, I have faith in my game. I very much believe I can get to that point very soon.

"I was close today. Every opponent is difficult. There's a small difference between the player I played today and the ones from before.

"But I think with the same attitude and the same... if I don't downgrade myself, I see no reason for me not to be holding that trophy one day.

"I played two good sets. I wouldn't call them incredible. I just played really well. It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough. That's a grand slam for you. It's the way it is.

"I don't think I have regrets. Could have easily cried, but I see no reason for me crying because I tried everything. I couldn't come up with anything better."

Novak Djokovic described the thrilling four-set win over Rafael Nadal that took him through to the French Open final as "the best match I was ever part of in Roland Garros".

A magnificent contest between two of the all-time greats saw 13-time French Open winner and reigning champion Nadal beaten 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The match, which ran to four hours and 11 minutes, was of such a level that tournament organisers sought and were awarded special dispensation to bypass the curfew which had been due to take effect at 23:00 local time.

It appeared, at the end of the third set, that spectators were about to be asked to leave the grounds, and the beginning of an announcement was booed as fans feared the worst.

But the message turned out to be as uplifting as the tennis, which was remarkable, Djokovic avenging his straight-sets loss in last year's title match.

"It was definitely the best match that I was ever part of in Roland Garros for me, and top three matches that I ever played in my entire career," Djokovic said.

"Considering the quality of tennis, playing my biggest rival on the court where he has had so much success and has been the dominant force in the last 15-plus years, and the atmosphere which was completely electric. For both players there was a lot of support. Just amazing.

"I was very happy that there was no curfew. I heard there was a special waiver, so they allowed the crowd to stay. Just one of these nights and matches that you will remember forever.

"It's hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can think of for Rafa's achievements in Roland Garros. He has been the most dominant player of Roland Garros history.

"He lost two, now three times, in his entire career. He's been playing here almost 20 years. That achievement speaks for itself."

Nadal raced into a 5-0 lead, but momentum was turning Djokovic's way by the time the Spaniard crept over the finish line in that opening set.

Djokovic becomes the first player to beat Nadal twice at Roland Garros, having done so previously in the 2015 quarter-finals, and the first man to defeat him in a semi-final at the clay-court grand slam. He now leads their all-courts career head-to-head by 30 wins to 28.

"Each time you step on the court with him, you know that you have to kind of climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here," Djokovic, the 2016 champion, said. "I had won only once in I think our eight matches that we ever played in Chatrier here in Roland Garros.

"I tried to take some positives and some cues from that match in 2015 that I won against him to implement tonight, which worked out very nicely. But it's just one of these matches that I really will remember for a very long time, not just because I won the match but because of the atmosphere and just the occasion was very special."

Nadal saw his hopes of a record 21st grand slam title this weekend slip away. That would have taken him past Roger Federer and into the outright all-time lead, but should Djokovic now carry off the trophy by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, that will put the world number one on 19 slams, ahead of a Wimbledon championship for which he will start as many people's clear favourite.

The Big Three could all be on 20 slams in a matter of weeks.

Assessing a rare loss at his favourite tournament, Nadal said: "That's sport, you know. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I tried to give my best. Probably it was not my best day out there. Even if I fought and put in a lot of effort, the position on the shots haven't been that effective.

"Against a player like him that takes the ball early, you are not able to take him out of his positions, then it is very difficult, no?"

Nadal served eight double faults and perhaps the key error was a straightforward volley that he sent long in the tie-break, but the 35-year-old put in a typically warrior-like performance.

"These kind of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can't make these mistakes," Nadal said. "So that's it. Well done for him. It has been a good fight out there. I tried my best, and today was not my day."

Novak Djokovic did not try to play it cool after setting up a dream Roland Garros showdown with Rafael Nadal. 

The world number one defeated Matteo Berrettini 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 Wednesday to secure a semi-final match-up with the 13-time French Open champion. 

Djokovic admitted his meetings with Nadal are "not like any other match" and said he expects a "great battle" Friday when the pair meet for the 58th time. 

"Let's face it, it's the biggest challenge that you can have playing on clay against Nadal on this court in which he has had so much success in his career," Djokovic told a press conference. "In the final stages of a grand slam, it doesn't get bigger than that.

"Of course, each time we face each other, there's that extra tension and expectations. Just vibes are different walking on the court with him.

"But that's why our rivalry has been historic I think for this sport. I've been privileged to play him so many times."

Djokovic holds a narrow edge against the man he called his biggest rival, with 29 victories to Nadal's 28, but the Spaniard has won the last two meetings -- including a straight-sets triumph in the French Open final last year. 

"Obviously different conditions are going to be played on Friday than it was the case in finals of last year, so I'm hopefully going to be able to also perform at the high level than I have, especially in the first two sets in the last year's final.

"The quality and the level of tennis that I've been playing in the last three, four weeks on clay -- Rome, Belgrade and here -- is giving me good sensations and feelings ahead of that match.

"I'm confident. I believe I can win, otherwise I wouldn't be here. Let's have a great battle."

Djokovic had to battle Wednesday to defeat the ninth-seeded Italian, letting loose a primal scream when he finally put the match away in the fourth set. 

The Serbian said the crowd was Davis Cup-like before fans were ushered out due to the local curfew. 

"The crowd lifted him up. He was playing some really powerful tennis," Djokovic said. 

"Especially in the third and fourth he served tremendously strong and precise. It was just very difficult to read his serve and play someone like him.

"He's very talented. He can play well from the back of the court. He's got a lethal forehand, dropshots. ... When he's on, it's tough to play him."

Novak Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in the semi-final of the French Open after defeating Matteo Berrettini in four sets.

The 18-time grand slam champion, who has only one title to his name at Roland Garros, was somewhere close to his imperious best on Court Philippe Chatrier as world number nine Berrettini's run was halted in a 6-3 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 loss.

This is as far as the Italian has got in Paris but Djokovic was determined to let him go no further, the world number one having suffered a scare in the last round as he fell two sets behind to Lorenzo Musetti before Berrettini's compatriot retired hurt.

Djokovic's peerless returning ability was on full display, and will have to be again against the 'King of Clay' Nadal, as he negotiated a tricky test with relatively little fuss.

The Serbian showed laser-like precision off both wings, affording Berrettini precious few opportunities to apply any pressure at all across the first two sets. 

Seeking to become only the second Italian player to defeat the French Open's number one seed after Adriano Panatta did so against Bjorn Borg in 1976, Berrettini could not find the answers to Djokovic's constant probing.

Like Djokovic, Berrettini was handed a walkover in the previous round after Roger Federer withdrew, although he did not have to even take to the court.

The third set offered some small hint that it may have given Berrettini an advantage in terms of freshness as he came through a hard-fought tie-break, fists pumping as he forced the contest late into the Parisian night, meaning the fans in attendance would not be able to see the match to its conclusion.

But a Djokovic break late into an hour-long fourth handed him the victory, prompting passionate, wide-eyed celebrations from the Serbian in the direction of his coaching team.

Data Slam: Djokovic can't be faulted

Opponents looking for any kind of weakness in Djokovic's game might feel some glimmer of hope when they get a look at his second serve. And then that second serve comes and the 34-year-old's variety leaves them befuddled. Djokovic won 65 per cent of the points on his second serve, proving that even when it appeared to door may have been ajar for Berrettini, it was quickly slammed shut.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 44/19
Berrettini – 55/51

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic – 10/1
Berrettini – 11/3

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic – 4/9
Berrettini – 0/3

Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record-extending 14th French Open title after overcoming Diego Schwartzman in an intense quarter-final on Wednesday.

Schwartzman ended Nadal's run of 36 consecutive sets won at Roland Garros to level up the contest at one set apiece, but the Spaniard's quality told in the end.

The third seed held serve throughout a tense third set and eased through the fourth to take the match 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-0 in two hours and 45 minutes in front of 5,000 spectators.

Nadal, who won nine games in a row to see out the contest, will now face either Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini for a place in the final.

Like Nadal, Schwartzman had not dropped a set at this year's tournament heading into this showdown, but the Argentinian was broken in the sixth and eighth games of the first to fall behind.

However, Schwartzman played some sublime and attacking tennis to instantly hit back by twice breaking Nadal in the second set.

In doing so, he became just the third player to win a set in more than one match against Nadal at Roland Garros after Djokovic and Roger Federer.

A tight third set followed, with both players holding until the ninth game when Nadal took the second of his break points with a slice-lob combo.

That proved to be a turning point in the match as Nadal claimed the following game to wrap up the set and dominated a swift fourth set to book his place in a 14th semi-final.

Tamara Zidansek powered into the French Open semi-finals on Tuesday with a three-set win over Paula Badosa as her remarkable campaign at Roland Garros continued.

The world number 85 was the lowest-ranked player in the quarter-finals, which featured six players never to have reached this stage of a grand slam before, a record in the Open Era.

The first woman representing Slovenia to get to the last eight of a major, Zidansek handled the occasion better as she moved a set and 4-2 ahead on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Badosa responded with some powerful hitting as her opponent began to falter, but Zidansek summoned up energy reserves when it mattered to clinch a 7-5 4-6 8-6 win in two hours and 26 minutes.

Badosa, the 33rd seed, had never before been beyond the fourth round of a slam but came into the contest with some pedigree at this event, having won the girls' title in 2015.

The Spaniard eased into a 3-0 lead in the opening set, but Zidansek won five of the next six games to take the lead in the match for the first time. Badosa warded off a set point but succumbed to the second as a slice clipped the top of the net.

Badosa had been one of the form players on clay this year, winning in Belgrade last month after reaching the semi-finals in Madrid and Charleston, but the 23-year-old sent a tight forehand into the tramlines to hand Zidansek a 3-1 lead in the second set.

The Slovenian was similarly tentative in the next game, sending a careless shot long to hand back the break to trigger a succession of unsteady service games from both players.

Badosa, who racked up five double faults in the second set, fell 4-2 behind, only to respond with three games in a row, breaking Zidansek to love before levelling the match when a strong forehand forced an error.

Just as she looked in control, Badosa slapped a forehand into the net to hand back a break, and suddenly Zidansek's laser groundstrokes began to find their mark again, a thumping winner moving her 5-4 ahead.

She dug deep to save break points and move 7-6 ahead after the longest game of the match, and one last forehand winner on the second match point was enough to end a gruelling contest and set up a semi-final against the victor of the clash between Elena Rybakina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

 

Data Slam: Zidansek on target at critical moments

"I was struggling a little bit but, in the third set, I managed to get my groove," said an emotional Zidansek after an exhausting match.

Her accuracy at the crucial points late in the contest proved decisive. She hit 22 of her 48 winners in the deciding set, helping her to swat away break points before clinching the victory.

 

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Zidansek – 48/39
Badosa – 31/47

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Zidansek – 1/3
Badosa – 2/9

BREAK POINTS WON

Zidansek – 8/13
Badosa – 7/14

Novak Djokovic came from two sets down against Lorenzo Musetti on Monday to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open for a record 12th consecutive year after his opponent retired in the fifth set.

The world number one went into the contest with the 19-year-old having not dropped a set at these championships but found himself in big trouble after a gruelling first couple of hours.

It felt like a different match entirely after that, as Djokovic won 16 of the final 17 games before Musetti retired with the scores at 6-7 (7-9) 6-7 (2-7) 6-1 6-0 4-0 in the 2016 champion's favour.

The Serbian seemed unsettled by Musetti's unpredictable early approach, the teenager mixing up forehand speeds and backhand passes to good effect after an early exchange of breaks.

It looked like Djokovic had control of the opening tie-break only for Musetti to win five out of six points to lead 6-5. Two rasping forehands soon secured the set after a Djokovic error.

Belief in a shock upset really did begin to grow when Musetti took a 3-1 lead in the second set, at which point Djokovic literally took his hat off to his opponent. Whether it was psychological or his cap really was a bother, a bare-headed Djokovic promptly broke back to love.

Djokovic's error count dropped from 20 in the first set to 15 in the second, but the momentum still seemed to be with the Italian, who continued to paint the lines from both sides of the court even when it seemed impossible: early in the second tie-break, a reflex lob from the net somehow bounced on the baseline as his opponent watched in disbelief.

Deserved as his lead was, there was still a feeling that, should Musetti's standards slip even a touch, the door to the comeback would be open. Djokovic seemed to sense as much, returning from a bathroom break to power his way through the third set in just 28 minutes, less than half the time of each of the first two.

Suddenly, doubt crept into Musetti's play as Djokovic began to dictate. He won 16 points in a row to take a 4-0 lead in the fourth and broke again with the sort of drop-shot winner that Musetti had anticipated with ease in the opening two hours.

Djokovic was troubled by his lower back before the fifth set and needed treatment to his hand after somehow winning the first point on the Musetti serve despite falling heavily in the dirt.

Yet it was Musetti whose body could simply no longer keep up, his retirement ensuring Djokovic will now face Matteo Berrettini in the last eight.
 

Data Slam: Djokovic kept his cool as Musetti froze

Djokovic is rarely shy about showing his emotions on court, so it was interesting to see not a single outburst even after he fell 2-0 down.

Each player had won 85 points in those first two sets and Djokovic seemed to know this was no one-sided affair. When he moved up a gear and Musetti started to falter in mind and body, it was a totally different contest, Musetti winning just 18 points in the final 17 games.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Djokovic – 53/42
Musetti – 30/49

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic – 11/2
Musetti – 1/2

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic – 9/9
Musetti – 2/4

Rafael Nadal set another French Open record and hit one more grand slam milestone with victory on Saturday, while world number one Novak Djokovic also progressed at Roland Garros.

Nadal, a 13-time French Open champion, reached the last 16 of the tournament for a record 16th time by beating Cameron Norrie 6-3 6-3 6-3.

It marks the 50th time Nadal has made it through to the fourth round of a grand slam in his outstanding career. Djokovic is second on the all-time list with 54 appearances in the last 16 of a major – behind only Roger Federer - after he saw off Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-4 6-1 in just 92 minutes.

While Nadal is set for a repeat of last year's quarter-final against Jannik Sinner, top seed Djokovic will be taking on another promising youngster in the form of Lorenzo Musetti.

DJOKOVIC THRILLED WITH HAMILTON COMPARISON

Djokovic is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros in 2021, with last year's beaten finalist – who is well on course to meet up with his old foe Nadal in the last four this time around – looking every bit worthy of his status as top seed.

His dominant display against Berankis drew comparisons, from one commentator at least, to Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

"It's like the dominance of Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team. Berankis is a great driver, he maximises everything under the hood. But Novak Djokovic is driving a completely different race car," said former French Open champion Jim Courier.

"Berankis can't do the same things. On the same track, he can't race the same. Novak can drive how he wants."

It was a comparison which delighted Djokovic.

"Well, I'm honoured to be compared to Lewis. I respect Lewis and everything he does in his career, but also, off the track with his activism," said the 34-year-old, who is hunting a 19th major win. "Something that truly inspires me and a lot of athletes.

"I don't want to talk about my driving next to Lewis' name. Honestly, it's embarrassing to speak about my driving, and in the same sentence with Hamilton! But the analogy and the comparison of my game with an F1 car, it's definitely something that pleases me."

NADAL ENJOYING ROLAND GARROS BACKING

Given his sensational achievements in Paris down the years, it is no surprise that Nadal feels right at home whenever he returns to Roland Garros.

There were, of course, no fans allowed into the stands last year, but a limited number of spectators, including his family, are on hand to cheer him on once more this time.

"It is true that for the last year and a half it has been difficult for every player, although I didn't play so much," Nadal said.

"Those who have been travelling week after week without the chance to have family and a full team with them is very tough. They have been challenging conditions.

"For me it is very important to have the team and family behind me, because of them I am what I am today. I'm happy to have crowds, that is so important for us."

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Though the era of dominance enjoyed by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic is only just starting to show signs of slowing down – albeit they still monopolise the grand slams – round four is going to throw up two fascinating contests.

Sinner came up against Nadal in the 2020 quarter-finals, and the Italian will be looking to cause an almighty upset this time around after overcoming Mikael Ymer.

Joining Sinner in the last 16 is his compatriot and fellow teenager Musetti, who has the small task of taking on the world's best player following a hard-fought victory over Marco Cecchinato.

It is the first time two teenagers have reached the fourth round at Roland Garros since Djokovic and Gael Monfils did so in 2006.

The weather could not dampen the spirits of Daniil Medvedev as he reached the fourth round of the French Open for the first time on Friday.

The Russian was in good form as he beat Reilly Opelka 6-4 6-2 6-4 amid rainy conditions in the French capital.

The second seed, who will meet clay-court specialist Cristian Garin next, hit 28 winners to 16 unforced errors in a dominant display on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

It was a display to instil some confidence into Medvedev as he chases the world number-one spot, which he will claim if he reaches the final and Novak Djokovic does not.

"Clay at Roland Garros feels great this year," he said. "As I said after the first round [against Alexander Bublik], now I know that to beat me, the guys have to play well. I am definitely happy with my game and my return today, because I actually hit more aces than him. That's a great achievement.

"I think a little bit [the] rainy conditions, wet, heavy court – which I totally hate on clay – helped me today. In these conditions, even guessing one side, I could still get back to another side if I saw the serve coming the other way."

ZVEREV DIGS DEEP TO PROGRESS

Alexander Zverev joined Medvedev in the last 16, the sixth seed saving three set points in the second set against Laslo Djere before taking nine of the next 11 games to ease to a 6-2 7-5 6-2 win.

"I was down 3-5, 40-0 on his serve and you don't always come back from that score," said Zverev, who will now meet three-time quarter-finalist Kei Nishikori. "He played a fantastic match, he is playing great on this surface so I knew I had to play much, much better than the first two rounds and I did that today."

Twelfth seed Pablo Carreno Busta was also a straight-sets winner, seeing off Steve Johnson to set up a meeting with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who survived a stern examination by John Isner.

Having lost the first set to the big-serving American, Tsitsipas recovered to win 5-7 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 6-1 at close to midnight local time to extend his winning streak on clay to seven matches.

FOGNINI STUNNED, FOKI EDGES FIVE-SET EPIC

Federico Delbonis stunned 27th seed Fabio Fognini 6-4 6-1 6-3. He will take on Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who came through a brutal five-set contest with Casper Ruud that lasted more than four and a half hours.

"I think this match represents Roland Garros," said the man known as 'Foki' to his fans. "This match was very tough. He played unbelievable.

"In the fifth set, we were in [a] battle every game. Every game we wanted to win [and] to break the serve of the other guy. It was, with all [the] emotions inside [and] with all the crowd singing your name, unbelievable!"

Serena Williams played down her prospects of winning a record-equalling 24th grand slam title at the French Open, insisting the standard on the WTA Tour is now so high that every match is a battle.

The three-time champion at Roland Garros made it through to the last 16 thanks to a 6-4 6-4 win over Danielle Collins.

However, the American - who has been stuck one slam behind Margaret Court's career tally ever since winning the 2017 Australian Open - had to work hard on Friday, including battling back from 4-1 down in the second set as she reeled off five games in a row to move on.

Williams is the only top-10 player left in her half of the draw following Aryna Sabalenka's exit earlier in the day, yet knows there is a long way to go in her quest to reign once more in the Paris.

"There's still a lot of matches, a lot of great players, as we can see," Williams told the media.

"There's so much depth in this game now, it doesn't matter if you're playing in the first round or not, you really have to fight for every match and nothing comes easy."

After struggling for form coming into the tournament, Williams feels tough contests like the one she had against Collins can only be beneficial.

"Today in particular, this whole week thus far, I just needed a win," the seventh seed said. "I needed to win tough matches. I needed to win sets. I needed to win being down.

"I needed to find me, know who I am. Nobody else is Serena out here. It's me. It's pretty cool."

Elena Rybakina – an impressive 6-1 6-4 winner against Elena Vesnina in little over an hour - is the next hurdle for Williams to clear.

SABALENKA SUNK, AZARENKA EASES THROUGH

With Ashleigh Barty forced to retire through injury and Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the event due to mental health concerns, Sabalenka was the highest seed left – well, she was until coming up against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Sabalenka rallied after losing the first set to draw level but then fell apart in the decider, serving four double faults and producing 17 unforced errors.

Pavlyuchenkova capitalised to complete a 6-4 2-6 6-0 triumph that avenges a loss to her opponent at the semi-final stage in Madrid during this year's clay-court swing.

Next up for the 31st seed will be Victoria Azarenka, the former world number one who eased past Madison Keys 6-2 6-2.

"I felt I played very disciplined today. I played smart. I tried to be aggressive," Azarenka said after winning in 70 minutes.

"My opponent, Madison, she really likes to dictate the points, so I tried to take that away from her, really step in, and make a lot of different balls so I’m pretty proud I was able to sustain my level."

MIXED FORTUNES FOR ROMANIAN DUO

Sorana Cirstea explained how a change in approach has helped her roll back the years after overcoming Daria Kasatkina in straight sets.

The Romanian's solitary quarter-final appearance at a slam came in the French capital 12 years ago but she has been in excellent form on clay this year, including claiming a title in Istanbul and a final appearance in Strasbourg.

"I'm taking it day by day, like I'm not going too far ahead with my mind," Cirstea told the media. "I'm actually enjoying all this process. Definitely I'm enjoying [it] much more than I did 12 years ago, and I think this comes with maturity."

While Cirstea has not made it this far in a grand slam for a long while, next opponent Tamara Zidansek is into the last 16 at a major for the first time.

Despite losing the first set in a hurry against Katerina Siniakova, the Slovenian rallied impressively to seal a 0-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 victory and continue an impressive run that was started by an upset over Bianca Andreescu.

Paula Badosa also needed three sets to overcome Romania's Ana Bogdan, including saving a match point, and extend her winning streak to eight matches as she came out on top 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4. Indeed, for the season she now boasts a 16-2 record on clay.

Aryna Sabalenka has been eliminated at the French Open, meaning all three of the top seeds in the women's singles are now out.

After Ash Barty was beaten and Naomi Osaka withdrew this week, third seed Sabalenka joined them in exiting the tournament on Friday.

Number 31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova triumphed 6-4 2-6 6-0 in a battle lasting 100 minutes.

Sabalenka came into the French Open with form behind her having beaten Barty to win the Madrid Open a month after losing to the Australian in another final appearance in Stuttgart.

But depsite having 10 WTA titles to her name, Sabalenka's wait to make a big grand slam impact as a singles player goes on - she he is still yet to reach the quarter-finals at any of the four majors.

Sabalenka won only 10 of her 30 second-serve points as Pavlyuchenkova broke her on five occasions in the match, storming to victory in the decider.

Pavlyuchenkova will face Victoria Azarenka - who defeated Madison Keys - in round four.

Sixteen seeds have now been beaten or withdrawn in the opening days of action at Roland Garros up until the middle of Friday's play.

Roger Federer took "a lot of confidence" from his four-set win over Marin Cilic as he produced his best display of the year at the French Open.

The 39-year-old beat the 2014 US Open champion 6-2 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Thursday, building on his first-round defeat of Denis Istomin with an impressive performance.

Federer looked in command in the first set but lost rhythm in the second amid sharpened play from Cilic and a strange confrontation with the umpire after a time violation warning while receiving serve.

The match was on a knife-edge heading into the third-set tie-break, but Federer was clinical when it mattered, serving out the set with an ace before assuming control again in the fourth.

"[It was a] very good match for me, I thought," said Federer, who will face Dominik Koepfer in round three. "A bit of up-and-downs in the second and third sets.

"The good thing, I feel like I come out of a match like this and I know why it was up and down, and then that I was able to attain a solid level once he did break back in the third set and things were looking dangerous for me.

"That I was able to step up a gear, stay with him, and then pull away from him, I think that gives me a lot of confidence."

DJOKOVIC AND NADAL IN CRUISE CONTROL

World number one Novak Djokovic is another who is finding his feet on the Paris dirt, the 2016 champion beating clay specialist Pablo Cuevas 6-3 6-2 6-4.

Djokovic, who will face Ricardas Berankis next after his win over James Duckworth, struck 31 winners as he moved to 22-3 for the year with his 350th grand slam match win.

"I'm playing well, feeling great. I'm ready to go deep in this tournament," he said. "Hopefully, that's going to be the case."

Defending champion Rafael Nadal was in imperious form in the late match, dispatching Richard Gasquet 6-0 7-5 6-2.

Nadal, who turned 35 on Thursday, won the opening seven games in under half an hour in a largely one-sided contest as he improved to 17-0 against the Frenchman, the most one-sided head-to-head of his career.

The Spaniard, who has not even dropped a set to Gasquet since 2008, said of winning once again in three: "I honestly don't complain at all! The main thing for me is to feel myself play well.

"In theory, it's better to save some energy, but at the same time, sometimes when you are pushed at the beginning of a tournament, you went through some tough moments, that helps a lot for the next rounds.

"It happened for me in Rome like this. I had some tough challenges at the beginning of the tournament, and then you get to the quarters, semis and final and you know you're going to suffer and you're more ready for the situation."

MONFLIS OUT, KWON EYEING SLICE OF HISTORY

Cameron Norrie continued the British interest in the French capital, recovering from a set down to defeat Lloyd Harris and reach round three for the first time, and will face Nadal next.

In a mixed day for the seeded players, Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini advanced in straight sets while Jannik Sinner beat compatriot Gianluca Mager 6-1 7-5 3-6 6-3.

However, Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev was beaten in four sets by veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, while 21st seed Alex De Minaur lost in four sets to Marco Cecchinato.

There was also disappointment for home favourite Gael Monfils. The 14th seed was beaten 6-0 2-6 6-4 6-3 by Mikael Ymer, the world number 105.

However, Thursday saw a moment to remember for Kwon Soon-woo, who reached round three of a major for the first time with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Seppi. He is bidding to become the first South Korean player to get to round four at Roland Garros.

There were impressive wins as well for teenagers Lorenzo Musetti and Carlos Alcaraz Garfica, who beat Nikoloz Basilashvili in straight sets to secure a meeting with Jan-Lennard Struff.

Rafael Nadal stormed into the third round of the French Open with a straight-sets defeat of Richard Gasquet under the floodlights in Paris.

Gasquet, the final French player in either the men's or women's draws, offered some resistance after a terrible start but succumbed 6-0 7-5 6-2 in two hours and 14 minutes.

Nadal has now beaten Gasquet in all 17 of their meetings on Tour, with the Frenchman falling to a Spaniard for the second tournament running, having lost 6-1 6-1 to Jaume Munar in Parma last month.

The 20-time major singles champion turned 35 on Thursday and seemed eager to go and enjoy what remained of his birthday as he reeled off the first seven games in a row inside half an hour.

Gasquet at last got on the board after a couple of strangely errant forehands from the defending champion, who broke Gasquet again at the third time of asking as he moved 4-1 ahead in the second set.

Gasquet might have dropped to 53 in the rankings, but he offered glimpses of the form that saw him climb as high as seven in the world back in 2008, the one-handed backhand and drop-shot game causing Nadal some problems.

There was a shock when he broke back at 4-5 behind in the second set as Nadal looped another forehand long, but Nadal piled on the pressure at 6-5 and took a 2-0 lead when Gasquet slapped a forehand into the bottom of the net.

A sublime volley and a rasping passing shot saw Gasquet fend off two more break points at 1-2 in the third, but his resistance was finally broken in a mammoth sixth game.

Gasquet's serve deserted him at the wrong moment as he handed Nadal two match points, the second of which was taken via another forehand into the net.

Data Slam: Nadal keeps Gasquet at arm's length

Nadal dropped just seven of 45 points behind his first serve, which averaged speeds of 180km/h, leaving Gasquet with few opportunities to knock the Spaniard off his game.

Such authority meant Gasquet had little chance of snapping his losing streak against Nadal, whose 17 wins from 17 meetings is a career record.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 36/23
Gasquet – 20/37

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 3/3
Gasquet – 2/5

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 7/16
Gasquet – 1/4

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