Serena Williams powered confidently into the fourth round of the French Open with a 6-4 6-4 defeat of fellow American Danielle Collins on Friday as the draw opened up enticingly.
The 39-year-old seventh seed produced a calm and composed display against a dangerous opponent and is now the highest-ranked player left in the bottom half.
Williams, seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, but first since 2017, will play Kazakhstan’s 21st seed Elena Rybakina for a place in the quarter-finals.
A hard-hitting contest featured 40 winners as Collins clearly decided her best policy was to fight fire with fire on Court Philippe Chatrier.
It appeared to be working when she forged into a 4-1 lead in the second set, but the response from Williams was emphatic as she pumped up the volume and the power to roar back to victory.
“That felt really good for me,” Williams said of her storming finish. “Things were not going my way. It’s not like she gave me those games. I had to earn it and turn it around.
“That was really positive for me going into the next match.”
Collins gave notice of her intent with two clinical backhand winners in the opening game but she found herself in trouble at 1-1, 0-40 before battling back to hold.
Williams broke serve at 3-3 when she showed great acceleration to chase down a dropshot and then sharp reactions to angle away a volley off Collins’ attempted pass.
Collins showed guts to save a set point at 3-5 and Williams then wobbled serving at 5-4 with consecutive double faults before recovering to seal the opener with an ace.
When Williams broke at the start of the second set it looked as though she might race away with the contest but 50th-ranked Collins found another gear to reel off four games in a row as the errors began creeping into the Williams’s game.
Trailing 1-4 Williams responded by raising the decibel level, scolding herself even after winning points, and suddenly she began firing on all cylinders again.
“I needed to find me, know who I am. Nobody else is Serena out here. It’s me. It’s pretty cool,” Serena said of the way she wrenched back control of the match.
The 27-year-old Collins began to look ragged and dropped serve to love at 4-4 before Williams claimed victory to reach the last 16 in Paris for the 13th time.
Despite her three Roland Garros titles, clay is not always regarded as the best surface for Williams.
She is clearly enjoying being back on the Paris dirt though.
“I love sliding. Love the speed. I feel like I have a little more time to, like, just get to balls, just hit ’em,” she said.
So far she is hitting them pretty well and with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, Garbine Muguruza and Aryna Sabalenka all departed and Simona Halep having been ruled out with injury, her prospects grow brighter by the day.