PARIS, France - Serena Williams pulled off a vintage comeback performance at the French Open on Thursday, recovering from a set down to dispatch No.17 seed Ashleigh Barty, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, moving through to the third round in front of an enthusiastic Parisian crowd.
"It was kind of fun to have the crowd so excited and doing the wave," Serena said after the match. "It was definitely interesting. Sometimes as a player, it's a little frustrating because you want to get the match on. This time around, I was just taking it in and enjoying the moment. Then I wasn't sure what to do: 'Like, should I serve? Should I not serve?'
Trailing the up-and-coming Aussie by a set and an early break, Serena tapped into her famous competitive instincts to level the match and held on through a tense final set on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
"When it's that close, you just keep going and you keep fighting. In the last few games, I just kept doing that: won a few or lost a few, but I just kept doing the best I could for today."
The three-time Roland Garros champion was playing just her second clay court singles match since reaching the final in 2016 - and her second since playing BNP Paribas Open champion Naomi Osaka in the first round of the Miami Open in March.
Across the net was Barty, who has surged up the rankings as Serena left tour to marry and give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
Showing the form that took her up to a career-high ranking of World No.16, the 22-year-old dropped just three points behind her first serve in the opening set as the American struggled to find her rhythm with 12 unforced errors.
"I felt like in the first set I didn't play bad. I just didn't make any shots. So I guess it is bad. But I had all the right ideas, like, coming to the net and hitting all my shots. They just weren't going in. That was kind of like a positive thing, because it wasn't like I was playing the ultimate match. I was just making so many errors.
"I was like, 'I've got to cut down on the errors, and I've just got to come out here and fight.' And that's what I did."
The first game of the second set was pivotal as it sparked a four game surge from Serena, who ultimately served out the set behind 10 winners.
"I felt like it's been a long way and a long journey, and I'm still getting there. But I have been working really hard for a really long time. I just am hoping that every day I'm out there, every match I'm out there, hopeful it will come together."
Playing her first deciding set of her comeback, the former World No.1 grabbed the only break in the third game and didn't face a break point on her own serve throughout the decider, securing an emotional victory after an hour and 46 minutes.
By match's end, Serena tallied 28 winners to 36 unforced errors, and managed nine aces to book a third round clash with Julia Goerges. The big serving German closed out Day 5 at the French Open with a 7-5, 7-6(5) win over Alison Van Uytvanck.
"She's been playing really, really well, and I have actually been watching her play a lot when I was pregnant, because she's been winning a lot and they show a lot of her matches.
"It would be good to play her. Every round for me is just an opportunity to go out there and do the best that I can do, and whether I win or lose, that's what I'm out here to do in this tournament."