AT THE outset, Serena Williams was grimacing and cursing and, worst of all, losing by a lot.
Then, suddenly, the 19-time grand slam singles champion was putting shots right where she wanted, imposing her will as only she can.
And the only anger Williams displayed was directed at her opponent, Victoria Azarenka, while they traded gestures and words over the chair umpire’s decision to replay a key point.
By the end, when she was aggressively grabbing the final six games and 10 of the final 12, all that really mattered was that the No. 1-ranked Williams was not going to let this one get away. Williams erased deficit after deficit and beat former No. 1 Azarenka 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 Saturday in a third-round French Open match filled with momentum swings and one GIF-ready contentious exchange.
On the last point of the second set, Azarenka hit a shot that landed near the baseline. Williams netted a response at about the same time an “out” call came.
Chair umpire Kader Nouni decided the point should be replayed, which Azarenka disputed.
She and Williams wound up looking at each other, and Azarenka waved her hand, as if to say, “Eh, never mind.”
Williams responded: “Don’t give me the hand, girl.”
Azarenka, who still was steamed about Nouni’s “bullshit” ruling after the match, lost the replayed point, giving Williams the set, and was warned for a visible obscenity.
Azarenka headed to a bathroom break. When she returned, she took a 2-0 lead in the third set.
Williams wouldn’t drop another game.
The two are friends away from the court, and Azarenka said later: “We don’t have any air to clear. But I gave her a pair of my shorts because she really liked them. True story.”
Afterward, Williams told the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd: “I don’t want to lose.”
Rarely does. Williams is 26-1 in 2015, 9-0 in three-setters.
The American improved to 50-11 at Roland Garros, making her the first woman since 1968, when grand slam tournaments admitted professionals, to have that many wins at each major.
In the fourth round, Williams will face the other remaining US woman, 40th-ranked Sloane Stephens.