• Serena, Djokovic march on, Thiem impresses

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    Serena Williams AFP PHOTO

    Serena Williams
    AFP PHOTO

    PARIS: Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams both swept into the last 16 at the French Open on a rain-hit Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in Paris, while Dominic Thiem confirmed his status as an outsider to win the men’s title.

    French hopes of a first home win in 33 years, meanwhile, were dealt a heavy blow when sixth-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired with a groin injury in the first set of his match with Ernests Gulbis.

    Djokovic, who can become just the eighth man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments should be emerge triumphant next weekend, beat Britain’s Aljaz Bedene 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 just before the light became too poor to play in.

    The Serb, winner of the last three Grand Slam tournaments, has seen his chances of adding the French title considerably improved by the shock injury withdrawal of nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.

    “It was important to finish this evening,” was Djokovic’s relieved comment on his late show before thanking the umpire for keeping the action going despite the gloom.

    Williams, seeking an Open-era, record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title, was a set up and about to tackle a second set tie-break against France’s Kristina Mlade­novic when a thunderstorm sent everyone scurrying for cover.

    On the resumption, more than two and a half hours later, the top seed and defending champion needed five match points to finish the job going through 6-4, 7-6 (12/10) with Ukraine 18th seed Elina Svitolina next in her line of fire following her victory over former champion Ana Ivanovic.

    “It was tough, but it’s part of the game. You just have to be ready for it,” Williams said of the bad weather.

    “I feel like I made a tremendous amount of errors. But, you know, I feel like she kind of forced me to. She forced me to go for it, and unfortunately, I wasn’t hitting great today.”

    Thiem was already done and dusted ahead of the rain, downing German teenager Alexander Zverev 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the fourth round.

    In what was a clash of two of the sport’s rising new stars, the Austrian dropped a tight first set, but then coasted away from his 19-year-old opponent.

    He will next play Spain’s Marcel Granollers, who reached the fourth round without hitting a ball after Nadal’s withdrawal due to a wrist injury.

    If he wins that, it will be the first time that 22-year-old Thiem has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam and Tsonga’s exit will further improve his chances.

    Also through to the last 16 was 2014 losing finalist David Ferrer, who comfortably saw off the challenge of fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 7-6 (8/6), 6-1.

    He will next play seventh seed Tomas Berdych, a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 winner over Pablo Cuevas.

    AFP

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