PARIS (Reuters) - When Serena Williams rushed toward the net to smash the ball away with all her might, the tremors felt all around Suzanne Lenglen Court on Saturday signaled only one thing — she was back in town to shake things up at the French Open.
Williams, playing in her first major since the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia last September, had not been at her intimidating best in her previous two matches at Roland Garros this week.
But if her third-round opponent Julia Goerges had hopes of finishing off a job that was ultimately beyond Australian 17th seed Ashleigh Barty, who folded despite being a set and a break up against Williams in round two, it did not take long for reality to sink in.
Williams took only 75 minutes to deliver the knockout punch that flattened the German 11th seed 6-3 6-4 and set up a heavyweight fourth-round showdown with Maria Sharapova.
“I feel like every match I play I’m getting better. I’m playing tougher opponents and I’m hanging in there,” said Williams, whose trophy collection includes three Suzanne Lenglen Cups.
“There is still a way to go but it’s moving in the right direction. It’s going to hopefully keep going.”
After such an impressive performance it is now not inconceivable that come next Saturday she will be celebrating a fourth triumph in Paris and cementing her place alongside Margaret Court as the holder of a record 24 Grand Slam titles.
Just seven matches into her comeback following her maternity break, Williams impressed all those watching on the 10,000-seater arena — including former boxing champion Mike Tyson — by pulverizing her opponent.
Five games after she broke for a 3-1 lead with a blazing crosscourt winner, Williams belted the furry yellow ball with so much fury into Goerges’s half of the court that it rebounded high into the stands.
Williams, though, did not linger about to track the disfigured ball’s final destination as that shot had sealed her the set.
Goerges broke the 23-times Grand Slam champion in the fourth game of the second set to get back on level terms at 2-2 but her moment in the spotlight was fleeting as she dropped serve in the very next game.
Williams, whom the rankings state is only the 451st best player in the world, showed what she is made of as she roared on to an easy victory and booked her place in the Paris fourth round for the 12th time.
After reaching the last 16 of a major for the first time as a mother, Williams was all smiles.
“It’s really special to be here again. This time last year I was pregnant and I was having a tough time and then I had a tough birth so every match at this stage of my return is a bonus,” said Williams, who suffered multiple complications following the birth of her daughter.
It was clear that finishing a tennis match quickly had another advantage.
“I think sometimes the sooner I get off, the sooner I can get to her (Alexis Olympia),” she added when asked if she starts thinking about her daughter mid-match.
“No matter what happens, I have an amazing human being that I love so much that I can go home to, and I can just be joyful with.”
Editing by Clare Fallon