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Serena Williams vs Pironkova French Open tennis preview, head-to-head and predictions

hannahwilks in French Open 29 Sep 2020
Serena Williams (Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

A US Open rematch could be a stern test of Serena Williams’s French Open aspirations despite her unbeaten record against Tsvetana Pironkova.

Serena vs Pironkova is live from Roland Garros on Wednesday 30 September, 1pm local/12pm BST

For the second time in two rounds at Roland Garros, Serena Williams finds herself facing an opponent who pushed her hard at the US Open as she takes on Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday.

French Open 2020: Find out tournament information for Roland Garros 2020 and how to stream French Open matches live

Pironkova un-retired after three years away from the sport to make a dazzling run to the US Open quarterfinals, where she pushed Williams to the limit. Will it be another three-set battle between them on the French clay?

Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.

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Williams vs Pironkova: Head-to-head

Serena Williams has an unbeaten 5-0 record against Tsvetana Pironkova, stretching back to their first meeting – and only match on clay – at the French Open in 2007, when Williams won 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.

They played most recently at the US Open when Pironkova led by a set and a break before Williams came back to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Williams vs Pironkova: Preview

This French Open so far really is déjà vu all over again for three-time champion Serena Williams, who had a first-round rematch from New York with Kristie Ahn on Monday and now faces US Open quarterfinal opponent Pironkova.

Williams beat Ahn 7-5, 6-3 at the US Open, but made it a slightly more emphatic 7-6(2), 6-0 victory over her compatriot on the clay despite trailing by a break for most of a very hard-fought first set. It took the sixth seed 74 minutes to win the first set, broken in a marathon nine-deuce third game before getting back on serve in an almost-as-long six-deuce game for 4-4; it was followed by another exchange of breaks before Williams was finally able to dominate the tie-break, and lead from there. She ended the match with 11 aces, 26 winners and 36 unforced errors.

Given the way Williams’s US Open campaign ended – fading physically and struggling with an Achilles injury which saw her withdraw from the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, meaning she comes into the French Open with no clay-court matches – and the very unusual conditions prevailing at Roland Garros this year, it was a very solid start to her campaign. But Pironkova will be a much bigger challenge. Where Ahn hits hard from the baseline, Pironkova adds to her very classic backhand a slice forehand which played havoc with Williams’s footwork and ground game at the US Open, and a nice line in drop shots and net play.

Tsvetana Pironkova (Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA)

We have tended to think of the Bulgarian as a grass-court specialist – she was a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2010 and a quarterfinalist in 2011 – but she also made the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2016, another year when conditions were cold and wet in Paris, and she has a 133-102 record on clay.

But then, Pironkova kind of threw conventional wisdom to the wind when she came back at the US Open and made her first hard-court Grand Slam quarterfinal there despite having not played since Wimbledon 2017. The level of tennis she produced to beat Garbine Muguruza in the second round was dazzling and although she faded physically, which was predictable, it was not until after she had really outplayed Williams completely in the first set in New York.

If Williams wants to win this title, she needs short matches, but in this one, survival might be the name of the game. In theory these conditions should favour the American, who can power the ball through the slow courts, but then Pironkova played so well in similar conditions in 2016. Williams can’t rely on the Bulgarian fading physically this time; she needs to impose herself on the match from the beginning. I think we could be looking at another lengthy match.

Williams vs Pironkova: Prediction