PARIS — Top-seeded Serena Williams won the final six games and 10 of the last 12, coming back to beat Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 Saturday in a third-round French Open match filled with momentum swings and a contentious exchange between the two players.
Azarenka played terrifically for an hour or so, going up a set and 4-2 in the second, as Williams grimaced and cursed and flubbed plenty of shots.
But Williams started to turn her game around, taking the last four games of that set. In the last one, she and Azarenka traded gestures and words over a disputed decision by the chair umpire to replay a point.
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After Azarenka took a bathroom break, she came out and took a 2-0 lead in the third set. She wouldn’t win another game.
Novak Djokovic seems in a hurry as he chases his ninth Grand Slam title — and the only one he’s never won — racing into the French Open fourth round with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win against 19-year-old Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Rafael Nadal also is through. But his 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 victory against Andrey Kuznetsov was over too quickly to provide a real gauge of the form, spotty of late, of the nine-time French Open champion.
Nadal was on court for just over two hours. He has yet to drop a set in his 11th French campaign. Nadal next plays Jack Sock, the last U.S. man in the draw who blew past 18-year-old Borna Coric 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to make the last 16 of a major for the first time.
Nadal hasn’t played Sock before but is already wary of the 22-year-old.
"An amazing forehand, good serve, very good serve," the Spaniard said. "I have to play aggressive."
Against top-ranked Djokovic, 84th-ranked Kokkinakis dropped serve three times and could not force a single break point in a match lasting 1 hour, 49 minutes.
Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent, Richard Gasquet, will have the support of the crowd. The Frenchman, ranked 21st, milked the fans’ energy in beating 17th-ranked Kevin Anderson 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-4.
Five of the last 16 men are French — only the third time they’ve done that well since Grand Slam tournaments admitted professionals in 1968.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray extended his impressive winning streak on clay, into the fourth round with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 beating of Nick Kyrgios, whose big-hitting was hampered by a sore right serving arm.
Murray also plays a Frenchman next, Jeremy Chardy, ranked 45th. Chardy beat David Goffin, ranked 18th, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
Murray’s coach, former women’s No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, had "make your own luck" written on her T-shirt. The third-ranked Briton has been doing just that with his improved game on the slippery clay dust.
"This is the best I have played on clay," he said. "The results would obviously suggest that."
In the women’s draw, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and former French Open finalist Sara Errani both advanced. But 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone is out.
Kvitova — a French Open semifinalist three years ago — won 6-3, 6-2 against Irina-Camelia Begu. Errani, ranked 17th, beat Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-3. Schiavone lost 7-5, 6-4 to Andreea Mitu, a Romanian who had never won a Grand Slam match before this tournament. Sloane Stephens was a 6-4, 6-1 winner against Tsvetana Pironkova.
On the men’s side, U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic also advanced in style with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win against Leonardo Mayer. David Ferrer, runner-up at the French in 2013, labored 6-3, 1-6, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1 in beating Simone Bolelli, ranked 60th. Ferrer and Cilic next play each other.
Under bright sunshine, Kyrgios entertained the crowd more than he threatened Murray. After retrieving a good lob with a superb shot through his legs, he then raised his arms in triumph. But 5-2 down in the second set and after dropping his serve for the second time, Kyrgios called for the trainer who massaged his right forearm and taped it up.
After Kyrgios saved a first match point with a stunning forehand at the net, Murray took his next chance by returning a serve with a powerful two-handed backhand from the rear of the court that zipped past the Australian, ranked 30th.
"I wasn’t near 100 percent," Kyrgios said. "Not to take anything from him. He played unbelievable."