PARIS • Serena Williams put her nervy start to the French Open behind her by thrashing Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara yesterday to step up her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
The 37-year-old cruised into the third round with a 6-3, 6-2 victory on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Williams will face Sofia Kenin for a last-16 spot, after her fellow American received a walkover following Canadian Bianca Andreescu's withdrawal through injury.
"I have had a tough year since I twisted my ankle in Australia," said the 10th-seeded Williams, chasing her first Major since the 2017 Australian Open.
"It's just been really tough after that. So everything definitely feels a little bit harder than normal but, at the same time, I know that it's going to get better."
As often with Williams, both the clothes and the arm did the talking.
She stepped into the stadium wearing her Virgil Abloh-designed dress, printed with the words "Reine, Mere, Championne, Deesse" (Queen, Mother, Champion, Goddess).
Winners the 37-year-old Serena Williams blasted past Kurumi Nara.
On court, Williams was given a decent workout by world No. 238 Nara, who was playing only her second match in the main draw of a Tour-level tournament this year.
Nara, 27, stood her ground in the first seven games, but was derailed in the eighth as Williams broke for 5-3 with a booming forehand winner down the line.
The Japanese cracked earlier in the second set, dropping serve in the third game, and never recovered as Williams snatched her 801st victory on the WTA Tour.
In her quest to clinch a third straight Grand Slam title, world No. 1 Naomi Osaka needed to serve up a strong never-say-die attitude, and add to that a dash of luck as well.
The top seed staged a second successive Roland Garros great escape yesterday when she battled back from a set and a break down to defeat Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in 2hr 50min.
The 21-year-old, bidding to add the French Open to her US and Australian Open titles, was also two points away from defeat in her opener against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (0-6, 7-6, 6-1).
Against former No. 1 Azarenka, she was staring down the barrel yet again at 4-2 down in the second set. However, she held her nerve to secure a third-round clash against Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.
In the men's draw, world No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic cruised into the third round with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 win over Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen yesterday.
Djokovic, bidding to become just the second man to twice hold all four Slams at the same time, faces 147th-ranked Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso for a place in the last 16.
Last year's runner-up Dominic Thiem overcame a tough test to reach the third round with a 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 7-5 win over Russian-born Kazakh Alexander Bublik. The Austrian fourth seed will next face Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas.
Fifth seed Alexander Zverev also progressed with a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) win over Swedish qualifier Mikael Ymer and will next take on Serbian 30th seed Dusan Lajovic.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, DPA
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