Women’s top seed Serena Williams struggled with her nerve and her serve on her way to a second-round win at the French Open against an opponent ranked 104 spots beneath her. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray also advanced.
Williams beat Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 on a cool afternoon on the Court Suzanne Lenglen at Roland Garros in Paris.
“It was a tough match, it wasn’t simple,” Williams said in a courtside interview in French after dropping her serve four times. “I was a bit nervous because I lost here at the same stage last year. It wasn’t great but I am happy to have won today.”
Last year, Williams managed to win only four games against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza at the same stage, the worst performance in her major career. Just like in 2014, the American seemed nervous from the baseline against Friedsam, pushing the ball over the net in the first half of the match instead of swinging freely.
The 19-time Grand Slam singles winner, the best server in the women’s game, produced eight double faults and nine aces. She struck 39 winners, but made 52 unforced errors. Friedsam had 12 winners and made 33 mistakes.
At about the same time over on the main Court Philippe Chatrier, nine-time winner Rafael Nadal had a trouble-free passage to the third round against fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
At the end of the afternoon, men’s top seed Djokovic of Serbia fired 35 winners past Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, while struggling with a groin problem. Djokovic, who has won every major except Roland Garros, extends his win streak to 24 this season and is the favorite to win.
Watched by his coach, Amelie Mauresmo, Britain’s Andy Murray overcame Portugal’s Joao Sousa, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. After receiving a time violation in the second set from the umpire, the crowd booed two-time major winner Murray after he told Pascal Maria he’d been waiting for the highlights to finish on the big screen inside the main stadium.
Fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki lost, while former Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens of the U.S. advanced with a straight-set win over Britain’s Heather Watson.
What on paper looked like a tough match turned out to be one of Nadal’s best performances of the year. Almagro, ranked outside of the top-100 after foot surgery last year, is a former top-10 player who had beaten Nadal on clay last year in Barcelona.
There had been questions about Nadal’s form after he failed to win a European clay court tournament for the first time in his career and is now ranked at a decade-low No. 7.
Against Almagro, Nadal produced 31 winners, including 19 with his forehand, a key shot in his career that had deserted him this season at crucial times in matches.
“The forehand has been great this afternoon,” Nadal said afterward. “The movement has been better than the rest of the year. This court is the most important court in my career and I love playing here.”
For about a set-and-a-half, it looked like Williams, the champion in 2002 and 2013, was on her way to yet another exit in Paris.
After winning her first round two days ago, Williams had sarcastically told reporters how happy she was at defending the ranking points she had gained from last year.
Screaming at herself, and throwing both arms up at times as she looked at her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams was broken three times in the first set against the German.
It looked as if the American restored order as she clawed two games back from 5-3 down. Leading 6-5, Friedsam froze on her first set point, playing a slice squash shot which limply landed in the middle of the net. Williams then handed her the first set as she tried to rip a backhand return, which landed wide for her 21st unforced error.
After saving two break points at 2-2 in the second set, Williams let out a loud “Come on” as she broke for a 4-2 lead.
While Williams, 33, is bidding for her 20th major singles title, Friedsam had been trying to win the 19th match of her four years on the women’s tour.
In the end, Williams’ experience overwhelmed the 21-year-old, who lost the next two sets as the top seed slowly began to find her range.
Williams will meet formerly top-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the next round. The 27th-seeded Belarussian, who has beaten Williams three times in 18 matches, moved to the third round with a straight-sets defeat of Czech Lucie Hradecka.
Earlier in the day, Wozniacki, from Denmark, was eliminated by Julia Goerges.
Wozniacki lost 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) to the 72nd-ranked German, who has now beaten the former top-ranked player in all of their three matches on clay.
“There is just some players that, it’s just a tough matchup for you no matter the rankings, and some of them are easy matchups for no matter the rankings,” Wozniacki said in a news conference. “Obviously she has given me trouble in the past and she gave me trouble again today.”
Wozniacki, a runner-up at the U.S. Open last season to her friend Williams, made 24 unforced errors, and produced 16 winners. Goerges made 30 errors and struck 39 winners.
Since making the 2010 quarterfinals, Wozniacki hasn’t got past the third round of Roland Garros.
In a battle between two former champions on Court No. 1, Francesca Schiavone of Italy outlasted Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-7 (11-13), 7-5, 10-8. Ten minutes shy of four hours, it was third-longest women’s match in Roland Garros history. Schiavone, the 2010 winner, saved a match point before winning.