Djokovic, Serena cruise; Osaka struggles
Juan Martin del Potro was pushed to the limit before taming Yoshihito Nishioka to reach the French Open third round on Thursday and showed his respect for the Japanese player's efforts with a bow at the end of a titanic struggle.
Joy was etched all over the Argentine's face when he put away a forehand winner to finally eclipse his plucky opponent 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5) 6-2 in an absorbing match.
"After four hours of playing great tennis, for both sides we closed the battle in a very good way," Del Potro told reporters, having bowed before Nishioka at the net after the contest.
"It was a tough match for sure. Long rallies, long points. We made a great match. I played a little bit better than him and that was the key to the match."
The eighth-seeded Del Potro has twice reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros, including last year, and had plenty of support in overcast conditions on Court Simonne-Mathieu.
However, he found it hard to get going in a first set that saw both players struggle on serve before the 72nd-ranked Nishioka edged ahead and held to open his account.
The 2009 US Open champion Del Potro, more at home on hard courts than clay, settled down in the second though and levelled the match with a forehand winner courtesy of a net cord.
The 30-year-old matched his two breaks in that set with two more in the third to get on top in the match, but Nishioka, 23, won the fourth set tiebreak on his second set point. That setback sparked Del Potro into action and, having beaten his opponent in their only other meeting, at Delray Beach in February, he was not about to let this one slide.
The world number nine raced into a 5-2 lead and, although clouds enveloped the court, the outlook was bright for Del Potro as he wrapped up the win before punching the air in delight. Del Potro, who has suffered his fair share of injuries over the years, seemed to be struggling with a slight knee problem and said he had played with some pain but was OK. "I lost my balance at the beginning of the match and felt pain in my hip and knee also. It's not easy to deal with this kind of pain after all my injuries."
He now faces Australian Jordan Thompson, who beat 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic -- the oldest man to win a match at the French Open since 1973 when he reached the second round on Wednesday.
Djokovic too good for Laaksonen
Novak Djokovic wasted little time beating Henri Laaksonen 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 to breeze into the third round and stay on course to hold all four Grand Slam titles.
The 32-year-old Serbian top seed, bidding to win his second French Open, was at his clinical best in the opening set against the Swiss lucky loser, dropping only three points on serve.
There was a brief loss of focus when Djokovic was broken to love midway though the second set but he was quickly back in the groove to move two sets ahead.
Laaksonen, ranked 104th in the world, had only reached the second round once in a Grand Slam, and there was no way back as Djokovic broke twice in the third to wrap up victory.
As with holder Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Djokovic has enjoyed a friendly first-week draw and he will face Italian qualifier Salvatore Caruso for a place in the fourth round.
Serena breezes into third round
Serena Williams breezed into the third round of the French Open on Thursday with a routine 6-3 6-2 win against Japanese Kurumi Nara, wasting no energy in her quest for a record-equalling Grand Slam singles title.
The 10th seed, chasing a first major since the 2017 Australian Open, survived a first-set fright in her opening match, but there was no hiccup this time.
She will take on fellow American Sofia Kenin in the next round, with world number one Naomi Osaka a potential opponent in the quarter-finals.
As often with Williams, both the clothes and the arm did the talking on Court Philippe Chatrier.
She stepped into the stadium wearing her Virgil Abloh-designed dress printed with the words “Reine, Mere, Championne, Deesse” (Queen, Mother, Champion, Goddess).
On court, the 37-year-old was given a decent workout by world number 238 Nara, who was playing her only second match in the main draw of a tour-level tournament this year.
Nara stood her ground in the first seven games but 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 tour.
Osaka survives Azarenka scare
For the second match running world number one Naomi Osaka stared at an early French Open exit but once again she fought like a champion, recovering from a woeful start to beat Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
The 21-year-old Japanese lost the first four games against a fired-up former world number one but reacted superbly to claw herself back and claim a 16th successive Grand Slam match win.
She is aiming to win a third successive major having bagged her first two at the US and Australian Opens but she is doing it the hard way in Paris.
Azarenka seemed poised to follow up her first round win over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko when she moved 4-2 ahead in the second set playing with the kind of control and aggression that took her to two Australian Open triumphs.
But Osaka flicked a switch and began pummeling heavy ground-strokes that kept Azarenka at full stretch.
Osaka piled on the pressure when Azarenka served at 5-6 but squandered three set points before finally levelling the match with a screaming backhand winner.
She raced into a 5-1 lead in the decider and although Azarenka grabbed the next two games, Osaka kept her focus to reach the third round.
Meanwhile, there will be no French woman in the third round of the singles draw for the first time since 1986 after Caroline Garcia was knocked out by Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.
The 24th seed was up a break in the third set before crumbling on Court Philippe Chatrier, bowing out with a double fault.
Only twice previously in the professional era, in 1981 and 1986, has no French woman reached the third round at Roland Garros.
Thiem stretched by defiant Kazakh
Austrian Dominic Thiem overcame a tough test to reach the French Open third round with a 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3, 7-5 win over defiant Kazakh Alexander Bublik on Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday.
Fourth seed Thiem, who reached the final at Roland Garros last year, had to use his full range of shots to overcome 91st ranked Bublik, who put up a fight against the 'prince of clay'.
The fancied Thiem, who is looking for his first Grand Slam success, broke Bublik in the second game of the first set and, while the Kazakh produced a cheeky underarm serve that helped him hold for 4-2, he did not threaten the Austrian's serve.
However, the 25-year-old Thiem was broken in the fourth game of the second set and, despite battling back with a break of his own at 5-3 down, the Austrian was outfoxed in the tie-break.
Thiem was clearly in a contest against the tricky Bublik, who was making his Roland Garros debut at 21, and had to dig deep before breaking in the eighth game and taking the third.
Bublik never gave up in the first meeting between the pair and broke in the second game of the fourth before squandering two set points at 5-2. Thiem sensed his chance and took the next five games to wrap up victory with an exquisite drop shot.
Thiem will play Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas, who reached the third round after Kyle Edmund, the last British man left in the singles draw, retired with a knee injury midway through the third set of their match.
Edmund called on the trainer while trailing 7-6(3), 6-3, 2-1 and after a short discussion, he informed the umpire he was unable to continue.
Edmund's exit left women's 26th seed Johanna Konta as the only Briton left in the singles competition.