PARIS, FRANCE – Three previous French Open winners make up our Three-to-See for Day Five of Roland Garros as Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams all are set to compete.
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Serena Williams vs Ashleigh Barty  H2H: Williams leads 1-0
Serena Williams made a successful impact on her return to Grand Slam action as she won her first clay court match in two years to beat Kristyna Pliskova in straight sets. The serve looked as fluid and she picked her targets effortlessly with the smoothest of service motions and when the ball was in her comfortable hitting zone, she looked in good form in a tricky first round match-up.
The next challenge for the three-time French Open champion is Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. Not typically a clay court player as she has had most of her notable accomplishments on the hard and grass courts, but she has the capability of doing good things on this surface, especially with the effectiveness of her backhand slice and that shot could help mess up the rhythm that Williams is trying to find as she builds up match-play.
I think Williams will get progressively better match by match, but it will be interesting to see if Barty can move Williams around the court and make her play the difficult shots that she would rather not play. Barty has built a bit of confidence after making the Strasbourg semi-finals last week, but was suffering with injury at the conclusion of the tournament.
Maria Sharapova  vs Donna Vekic H2H: First meeting
The two-time French Open winner Maria Sharapova had to battle her way through a stern challenger in Richel Hogenkamp in her opening round, where she rallied back from 3-1 down in the deciding set. It was not the prettiest of matches for the Russian, but the five-time Grand Slam champion will recognise the significance of those small steps and those confidence-building wins of winning when not playing at your peak and that is something she has lacked in her comeback in the last twelve months.
Donna Vekic, now coached by Angelique Kerber’s former coach Torben Beltz, played mostly very well in her first round match. She played a blistering first set, displaying effortless power off both sides, but did need to dig deep to win in straight sets over Kateryna Bondarenko.
For the Croatian to get the upset she has to enjoy the battle and rise above the adversity, because playing Sharapova can force many tennis players to go into their shell and shy away from the challenge, so Vekic has to welcome the fast tennis balls coming her way and find a way to win.
Prediction: Sharapova in two sets.
Rafael Nadal  vs Guido Pella H2H: Nadal leads 1-0
Rafael Nadalbegan the defence of his title with a straight sets win over Simone Bolellibut it was by no means a straightforward match as he battled past some inspired and consistently aggressive ball-striking from the Italian. It really did show that the way to stun the ten-time French Open champion is by taking time away from him on the baseline and stop him from generating the heavy top-spin that he loves to inject on the ball so much, but it sounds a lot easier than it is over a best-of-five match.
His second round opponent Guido Pella has plenty of experience of working his way around a clay court, but I don’t think he generates enough pace on both wings to really take Nadal out of his comfort zone. The interesting part of this match will be seeing how the Spaniard reacts after a test in the first round as he will be desperate to get better step by step and then to peak in the latter stages of the tournament.
Prediction: Nadal in three sets.
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