Serena Williams holds back Mladenovic at French Open

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PARIS (AP) Defending champion Serena Williams needed five match points after waiting out a rain delay of more than 2 1/2 hours, but she eventually moved into the fourth round of the French Open with a 6-4, 7-6 (10) victory over 26th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic of France.

In a tight, well-played match at Court Philippe Chatrier, action was suspended Saturday when a thunderstorm arrived right before Williams and Mladenovic began the second-set tiebreaker.

Once they resumed, Williams erased one set point for Mladenovic at 9-8 with a swinging forehand volley winner. Four times, Williams was a point from victory in the tiebreaker – at 6-5, 7-6, 8-7 and 10-9 – and couldn’t close it out. But on the fifth opportunity for Williams, Mladenovic pushed a forehand wide to end the match.

“She played really, really well and forced me to bring out my best tennis,” Williams said. “I’m happy I got through that.”

Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, called the tiebreaker “the only moment that I think was her good tennis.”

“Serena was really aggressive, went for her shots and took risks,” he said. “That’s her game.”

Williams, the No. 1 seed, is trying to become the first woman to win consecutive titles at Roland Garros since Henin took three in a row from 2005-07.

Next up against the American will be Elina Svitolina, who defeated Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-4.

In her seven previous matches with Ivanovic, the 18th-seeded Ukrainian had only managed to win a set. Svitolina had also lost twice at Roland Garros against the 2008 champion.

“First win against Ana, it’s huge for me,” said Svitolina, whose best result at the French Open is a quarterfinal spot last year, when she lost to Ivanovic.

The 21-year-old Svitolina, who had won just one match on clay this season before starting her campaign in Paris, said she played with a “better mentality” than during her previous matches against the Serb.

“I was really confident today,” Svitolina said. “I don’t know. Just everything was right. Today I was doing (the) right things. Even missing bad shots, I was trying to stay positive and to play my tennis.”

Svitolina, who made her debut on the tour four years ago, has added three-time French Open champion Justine Henin to her coaching team this year, hoping that the former top-ranked player would help her reach a new level.

Although an injury hampered her quick progression this season, Svitolina said Henin’s experience has helped her mentally.

The Belgian’s knowledge of Williams’ game may be a strong asset too. The now retired Henin beat Williams twice at the French Open in 2003 and 2007.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for me,” said Svitolina, who has lost her three previous matches with Williams. “I think mentally I need to stay strong, stay positive, and no more junior mentality and junior tennis.”

The 14th-seeded Ivanovic managed to hold just three times when serving and got broken seven times by Svitolina. She also hit 29 unforced errors.

“My forehand wasn’t really working today,” Ivanovic said. “I was making a lot of errors. I managed to get back into (the) match and then few disappointing errors always came in the wrong time. I felt like that was sort of throughout the match.”

Also advancing to the fourth round Saturday were No.8 seed Timea Bacsinszky, who beat Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-2, and No. 12 Carla Suarez Navarro.

In the men’s draw, Dominic Thiem prevailed in the duel of rising tennis stars, downing teenager Alexander Zverev 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

The 13th-seeded Thiem equaled his best result at a major tournament after reaching the round of 16 at the U.S. Open in 2014. It was the third time that Thiem and Zverev faced each other in four weeks, with Thiem extending his winning record to 3-0.

Thiem’s next opponent will be Marcel Granollers, who advanced without playing thanks to Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal with a wrist injury.

Former French Open runner-up David Ferrer also reached the fourth round, for a sixth consecutive year.

The 11th-seeded Ferrer came out on top from an all-Spanish match with Feliciano Lopez, winning 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-1. He’ll next face either seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych or Pablo Cuevas.

Petra Kvitova to play at French Open

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PARIS —¬†Only two months after picking up her racket for the first time following a knife attack at her home, Petra Kvitova will be playing at the French Open.

The two-time Wimbledon champion said Friday she will make her comeback at Roland Garros, although she still lacks power and strength.

“I knew this day would come,” said Kvitova, who was attacked by an intruder last year. “I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true.”

Kvitova has missed all season while recovering from surgery on her racket-holding left hand. She sustained damage to the tendons in her left hand, along with injuries to all five fingers and two nerves, during the attack.

Doctors initially thought she would need more time before returning to tennis. But Kvitova’s recovery was faster than expected and she said last month that she was signing up for the French Open, which begins Sunday, in hopes of being able to compete.

“It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I work through this and I can play tennis and I can be in the draw,” she said.

Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014 and climbed as high as No. 2 in the WTA rankings, was not allowed to speak about the attack itself because a police investigation is still ongoing. However, she spoke about the anxiety associated with her dreadful experience.

“I didn’t sleep well the days after, but I wasn’t really staying alone,” she said. “From the beginning I was really feeling really weird when I went in the city or somewhere. I was always staring to the guys and looking if there are no strangers there. But with the time, it’s better.”

Kvitova also provided details on the intense rehabilitation process that preceded her “last-minute” decision to try her luck in Paris.

“I worked very hard behind the scenes,” she said. “From the beginning I had this hand in a splint for two months, and even then I was practicing every day, always putting the splint away and trying to make this scar softer. So from the second day after surgery I started to work with that, which was kind of easy, just passive work with the fingers. I couldn’t move them.”

Kvitova got rid of the splint after two weeks and started to move her fingers slightly. She said she can’t still move them completely.

Kvitova also consulted with a hand specialist in the French city of Grenoble every month and she started practicing with a racket at the end of March.

“I hit a few forehands with soft balls from the net, and it felt very, very weird,” she said. “I didn’t really have touch in the hand for holding the racket. I’m happy that I didn’t have to change any techniques or something. Everything seems OK. Of course the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it. Hopefully one day will be everything perfect.”

Kvitova will open her campaign on the red clay against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup. She is making her ninth appearance at Roland Garros, where she reached the semifinals in 2012.

“Not many people believe that I can play tennis again. So I’m happy that I can play,” Kvitova said. “I actually already won my biggest fight. I stayed in life and I have all my fingers.”

Nishikori saves three match points in Geneva Open QF win

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GENEVA — Kei Nishikori saved three straight match points in the deciding set before outlasting Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the Geneva Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

The second-seeded Nishikori was serving at 4-5, 0-40 before rallying to beat the 62nd-ranked South African, who fired 14 aces without allowing any by his opponent.

Nishikori also trailed in the tiebreaker before creating a second match-point chance with a forehand crosscourt service return for a winner. He clinched with a forehand winner off a looping net-cord ball.

The No. 9-ranked Japanese player will face 33rd-ranked Mischa Zverev of Germany in the semifinals on Friday.

The Russian-born Zverev, who came through qualifying, beat fifth-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States 6-4, 7-5.