Williams dominated for stretches against 11th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany, playing cleanly right from the start of a 6-3, 6-4 tour de force at Court Suzanne Lenglen that lasted a mere 75 minutes Saturday and lacked much in the way of theatrics.
Now, then, comes the drama. Next for Williams as she competes in a major tournament for the first time in 16 months — and since giving birth in September — will be a familiar foe, Maria Sharapova.
The 36-year-old Williams set up that showdown by making only three unforced errors in the opening set against Goerges, 12 in all. She won 12 consecutive points on her serve during one run.
The most-anticipated matchup for a quarterfinal spot at Roland Garros will pit 23-time major champion Williams against five-time major champion Sharapova on Monday. Williams has won the French Open three times, Sharapova twice. They are the only active women with a career Grand Slam; they are two of only six in history to accomplish that. They are Nos. 1-2 among active women in career clay-court titles: Williams has 13, Sharapova 11. Both have been ranked No. 1.
But the head-to-head history is overwhelmingly in Williams' favor: She has won 19 of 21 meetings, including 18 in a row.
The last time Sharapova beat Williams was — get this — in 2004.
Sharapova advanced Saturday with a similarly lopsided win hours earlier, beating 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
Other women moving into the fourth round included 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza, two-time French Open finalist Simona Halep, two-time major title winner Angelique Kerber and reigning U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens.