SERENA Williams passed her first serious test of the French Open with a 6-4 7-6 (12/10) victory over French number one Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday.
The defending champion lost just five games in her opening two matches but needed two hours and 11 minutes to battle past Mladenovic in a rain-affected match on Philippe Chatrier.
The Frenchwoman was inspired by a raucous home crowd and had chances to upset Williams, who needed all her survival skills to make it through to a fourth-round meeting with Elina Svitolina.
Both women did a superb job of holding their serves and the only break of the match came in the tenth game of the first set, enabling Williams to move ahead.
The American took advantage of her opponent’s disappointment having failed to take any of three break points at 4-4.
Williams was having one of her vocal, emotional days, and her frustration threatened to boil over when Mladenovic came from 0-40 to hold in successive games in the second set.
The top seed took just one of 12 break points in the match and Mladenovic held on to force a tie-break.
At that point, rain that had been little more than drizzle turned into a torrential downpour, forcing the players off court for more than two and a half hours.
When they resumed after a two and a half hour break, it was with a single TV camera broadcasting after the storm knocked out power to the TV compound.
Mladenovic made the better start to the tie-break, winning five of the first seven points, but Williams responded with four in a row to move to the brink of victory.
But it took a good deal of effort to get over the line, with Williams fluffing a smash long and missing three further match points before Mladenovic finally overcooked a forehand.
Serena is now aiming to equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam women’s singles titles in the Open Era.