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.