She’s back.

Serena Williams, over a year removed from her last appearance at grand slam level, returned on the clay of Philippe Chatrier with a display that was bad-ass in more ways than one.

Beating Kristyna Pliskova 7-6, 6-4, the 23-time champ did it wearing her very own Black Panther catsuit. About as striking a fashion statrment as you could make, Serena made it clear afterwards that the true intent was to empower “all the mums out there that had a tough pregnancy, and had to come back and try to be fierce in the middle of everything”.

For what is essentially just a bunch of fabric, it’s pretty cool that Serena’s wearing it can mean so much to so many people. Serena herself experienced complications with blood clots in the wake of her own pregnancy, so to be able to turn that into a positive is understandably inspiring, not to mention for dudes like myself, it raises awareness for an issue we might not know about or really understand. It’s rare that athletes actually deserve to be called role models, but in this instance Serena certainly does.

Here’s your three to see on day four in Paris:

Elina Svitolina (UKR) [4] v Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) — First on Suzanne Lenglen

Now in year two of the Elina Svitolina-as-contender experience and well, we’re still waiting for her to really contend. Maybe RG 18 will finally be the tournament she breaks through to her first major semifinal, but before she does she’ll have to face off against rising prospect Kuzmova, who has steadily climbed the rankings since announcing herself with a three-set loss to Venus Williams at last year’s US Open. Possessor of a deliciously dangerous forehand, the 20-year-old Slovak already has the goods to trouble Svitolina, who might find herself on the defensive a bit more than she anticipated against a player ranked only 87. Nevertheless, if Svitolina is serious about she’ll have to pass this test, and do well to make a statement while doing so.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [7] v Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) — Third on Court 18

A man with no understanding of the word “rest”, Dominic Thiem will be hoping his match-laden schedule will prove the difference here in a chance for revenge against the up-and-coming Stefanos Tsitsipas. The two have already played three times this year, with Thiem taking the first two but Tsitsipas winning their most recent meeting in Barcelona with relative ease 6-3, 6-2. If Thiem wants to turn the tables, he’ll need to mix in a decent amount of aggression with his baseline game, as Tsitsipas is surprisingly comfortable manouevering his 6’4 frame around the baseline, and showed in their last encounter he is more than capable of pressing the issue if Thiem gets complacent. Of course, the Austrian is still rightly favoured, but he could be in for a long afternoon.

Kei Nishikori (JPN) [19] v Benoit Paire (FRA) – Third on Philippe Chatrier

Something of a dark horse candidate given his still relatively-fresh return from injury and underrated play on this surface, Kei Nishikori gets the exact sort of test he needs at this stage of the tournament in Benoit Paire. As recently as Rome the Frenchman showed he is still capable of playing some strong clay-court tennis, collecting the scalps of Richard Gasquet and Diego Schwartzman in the first two rounds, and has generally pushed Nishikori in a head-to-head the Japanese leads 3-2. How this match plays out will be largely dependent on whether Nishikori can control the backhand-to-backhand exchanges, as well as Paire’s ability to improvise without shooting himself in the foot. In any case, don’t be surprised if they take extra innings to sort it all out.


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