Ageless Serena still the inspiration

 - Ian Chadband

Serena Williams, idol of future rivals and beaten challengers alike, surges on.

Serena Williams - Roland-Garros 2019 - 2e tour©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

With her troublesome knee causing no grief, her ring rust gradually being shed and her form soaring as she powered into the third round, Serena Williams continued to enjoy cutting an inspirational figure to her fellow players at Roland-Garros on Thursday.

Even her outclassed second-round opponent Kurumi Nara, of Japan, almost sounded as if her 6-3, 6-2 defeat by Serena on Court Philippe-Chatrier was a kind of privilege because she had been so thrilled to share the rectangle with the player she considered the greatest of all time.

Earlier, 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, the latest tennis sensation from the US, also paid tribute to Williams after becoming the youngest American to reach the third round since the 16-year-old Serena back in 1998.

And amid all the plaudits, the 37-year-old explained just how much she enjoyed being an icon to the new generation of players like another American youngster Sofia Kenin, who will be the next opponent on her march towards a possible record-equalling 24th Grand Slam triumph.

“I really love all the new young players. Like, it's just so exciting. I feel like tennis has done so much for me - and to see a new generation come through is great,” explained Williams after her straightforward 67-minute demolition of Japan’s world No.238 Nara. 

Earlier, Anisimova, who had just beaten Belarusian No.11 seed Aryna Sabalenka in superb fashion, had explained: “Serena’s  done so much for the sport, she's a huge inspiration to me. I really look up to her.”

The teenager remembered particularly having suffered a depressing defeat at the Miami Open when Williams suddenly materialised to cheer her up. “It was a really long match and I was super upset in the locker room, Serena actually came up to me and we shared a little bit of a chat. That was really nice of her - and I'll remember it forever.”

Serena Williams© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Serena remembered the moment too. “I was heartbroken when Amanda walked into that locker room, and I wanted to be there for her, because I have been there,” she explained.

Kenin, who had a walkover into the third round after Bianca Andreescu had to withdraw with injury, is another of the promising US brigade, leaving Williams to expect a rather more testing third round challenge.

“I think it will be a good match,” she smiled. “Sofia has a lot to bring to the table. She has a lot of excitement, and she's so young, and such a good player.”

But the Moscow-born, Florida-based Kenin will be facing an opponent who, ominously, took another step towards her rediscovering her best, cracking 10 aces and 36 winners past Nara, including a few vintage searing returns. 

“The knee’s okay. I'm still here, so it's doing okay,” was her latest injury bulletin. “I have been working on a lot of different things on my (service) return in practice over the past several months. Hopefully, now it's starting to show.” 

Indeed - it won't have gone unnoticed by the other main contenders.