Serena Williams remains in the hunt for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, after beating Danielle Collins 6-4, 6-4 to reach the fourth round of the French Open 2021. It was the Williams' best match in Paris this week, but the former World No. 1 didn't always have things going her way.
The spirited Collins made a late surge in the second half of the match, and for a moment it looked all but certain that there would be a deciding set. But Williams managed to hold on, and her reward is a place in the second week of the claycourt Major.
On that note, let's take a look at the three things that stood out in Williams' straight-sets win:
#1 Serena Williams' resilience is still her biggest weapon
Serena Williams had to do it the hard way. After the two players exchanged early breaks in the second set, Danielle Collins went on a rampage.
With Williams looking tentative on serve, the younger American started striking the ball more confidently. Improved serving and more intensity on her groundstrokes helped Collins go up 4-1 against a seemingly clueless Williams.
But the 23-time Slam champion is a master at regrouping and refocusing. She flipped a switch within herself to bring about a turnaround in fortunes.
Williams started pouncing venomously on the Collins second serve, and that paid off. Collins eventually cracked under the pressure, handing Williams the last five games - and thus the match too.
Williams' ability to solve problems simply remains unparalleled, and that is something aspiring players should take lessons from.
#2 Serena Williams' serve and return are not at their peak yet
It's scary to think that Serena Williams has massive scope for improvement both on serve and return despite such a regulation scoreline.
The former World No. 1 landed just 59% of her first serves in the match. And while she did produce five aces, she also undid her good work with five double faults - something that is uncharacteristic of her.
One of those double faults came at a crucial stage of the match, which handed a 3-1 advantage to Collins in the second set.
After that setback Williams served as big as 190kmph in the moments that mattered, which ultimately got her out of jail.
Similarly, the World No. 8 didn't put up the cleanest of returns. Her forehand often let her down, which was especially evident in the first three games of the match - where she also went 0/3 on break points.
Williams ultimately finished with 50% (4/8) success on break points - a statistic she would like to improve upon as she enters a challenging second week.
#3 Serena Williams' claycourt struggles seem to be a thing of the past
Serena Williams' staggering 365th Grand Slam match win also put her in the fourth round of the French Open for the first time since 2018. The American, who last won the claycourt Major in 2015, has been plagued by injuries during her Paris sojourn over the last few years.
A pectoral muscle injury forced her to withdraw ahead of her highly-anticipated fourth-round face-off with fellow former champion Maria Sharapova in 2018. In 2019 she was beaten by the rising Sofia Kenin in the third round, while injury reared its ugly head again in 2020; an Achilles tendon injury cut short her journey after she reached the second round last year.
This time, even though Williams didn't have ideal preparation in the lead-up to Roland Garros, the exodus of seeds from the bottom half has opened up her path. With the American getting better with every match, she might just fancy her chances of ending her long wait for her 24th Major.
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