French Open: Three-time champion Serena Williams stunned in straight sets by Elena Rybakina
Williams was bidding to equal Margaret Court's haul of 24 Grand Slam titles; the 39-year-old will now set her sights on a seventh Wimbledon title next month
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 07/06/21 6:21am
Three-time champion Serena Williams was stunned by 21st seed Elena Rybakina in the last 16 at Roland Garros, as the American's bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title was curtailed in straight sets.
Williams was one of just three top-10 players left in the women's draw, although the wait to equal Margaret Court's record haul continues after her latest bid culminated in a 77-minute defeat on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Rybakina - featuring in her first last-16 encounter at a major tournament - outclassed the seventh seed to complete an impressive 6-3 7-5 victory, which guarantees a new Grand Slam finalist from the bottom half of the draw.
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The 21-year-old was touted as a dangerous opponent, and she exhibited the form that catapulted her to four WTA singles finals and a Top 20 ranking early in 2020; producing a nerveless display to secure the biggest win of her career.
The talented youngster from Kazakhstan registered four double faults in the opening set, but Williams struggled to penetrate the first serve, and Rybakina converted both break points afforded to her to seal the set 6-3.
The world No 21 tightened her grip on the contest with an early break in the second, but Williams responded emphatically, conjuring up four consecutive winners; sparking a sequence of nine straight points.
"I am so happy with my match, it was amazing. Of course I was nervous; I was not serving that well in the game before, but I am happy that I managed to control them in the end."
Rybakina refused to relent however, regaining the initiative with another break to lead 4-3, which prompted the 23-time Grand Slam champion to throw her arms up in sheer exasperation at her opponent's baseline brilliance.
Williams prolonged the drama by attacking the Kazakh's second serve to level the set, although Rybakina continued to probe; unleashing a series of blistering groundstrokes to move to the cusp of victory with a break to love in the 11th game.
The 39-year-old displayed glimpses of her destructive best early in set two, yet she was largely nullified by Rybakina, who recorded 21 winners to advance to the last eight without relinquishing a set.
Pavlyuchenkova rolls back years to stun Azarenka
Rybakina will now play her doubles partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time in a decade after coming from behind to defeat 15th seed Victoria Azarenka.
Following her stunning win over third seed Aryna Sabalenka in round three, the Russian defied the odds once more, recovering from a set down to defeat the former Australian Open champion 5-7 6-3 6-2.
"It's really incredible I'm still playing tennis 10 years later," admitted Pavlyuchenkova. "It's a surprise for me to be here. I fought for each ball and each point and played very well."
Brilliant Badosa marches on
Earlier in the day, Spain's Paula Badosa extended her winning streak on clay to nine matches after closing out a hard-fought 6-4 3-6 6-2 victory over 2019 finalist Marketa Vondrousova on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Badosa, who claimed her maiden title in Belgrade a fortnight ago, dominated proceedings from the baseline to seal a spot in her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final.
"When you're in these rounds, of course how you play, it's very important. I think it's a little bit more important how you manage all the nerves in the important moments," the in-form Spaniard told reporters.
Zidansek makes history in reaching last eight
Badosa will take on Tamara Zidansek for a place in the last four, after the world No 85 produced a terrific display to defeat Romania's Sorana Cirstea 7-6(4) 6-1, to become the first Slovenian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final.
The unseeded 23-year-old had never been beyond the first round in Paris, but a magnificent opening-round success over sixth seed Bianca Andreescu gave her the necessary impetus, and she's not looked back since.
"It means a lot to me that I'm able to get across to the message to young people and everyone in Slovenia that we can do it. We're a small country, we don't have that many players, but we have good players," Zidansek insisted.