Sensational return for Serena

Serena Williams. File picture
Serena Williams. File picture
Image: Thomas Samson/AFP

Serena Williams made a winning return to grand slam tennis which was as memorable as her body-hugging black catsuit when she reached the Roland Garros second round yesterday. 

Williams, 36, downed Kristyna Pliskova, of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (7/4) 6-4 to register her first victory at the majors since her 2017 Australian Open triumph.

“I missed Roland Garros so much. I missed the battle,” Williams, the 2002, 2013 and 2015 champion, said after playing her first clay court match since finishing runner-up to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final on the same Philippe Chatrier court.

“It’s been two years since I played here. It wasn’t easy, but I have been training really hard. I feel good and just so happy to be back here.”

As Williams – and her eye-catching outfit – grabbed the headlines, there were wins but a few scares for 10-time champion Rafael Nadal and two-time winner Maria Sharapova.

Nadal racked up his 80th win in Paris by seeing off Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli 6-4 6-3 7-6 (11/9).

Sharapova, playing the tournament for the first time in three years, battled from a 0-3 deficit in the final set to beat Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp 6-1 4-6 6-3.

Williams, holder of an open era record 23 grand slam titles, had arrived at Roland Garros with just four matches under her belt this year.

Having been off the tour to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian in September, many in the sport wondered if she would still be a contender at the majors, especially with her ranking at 451.

However, she gave a stinging response to the doubters yesterday, even if her win over the 70th-ranked Pliskova tested her.

The only consolation for Pliskova, twin sister of world No 6 Karolina, was finishing with 15 aces, the most hit against Williams since such records were first kept in 2008.

World No 1 Nadal had been two sets up but 0-3 down in the third to Bolelli when rain caused the tie to be suspended late on Monday.

He quickly levelled at 3-3 yesterday. Nadal, bidding for an 11th title in Paris and his 17th major, next faces Argentina’s Guido Pella for a place in the last 32.

Sharapova also survived a serious scare to claim a 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory over Hogenkamp, ranked 133rd.

Sharapova, the 28th seed, will face Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the second round.

Sharapova, 31, five-time major champion, took just 24 minutes to win the first set of a match which was delayed from Monday due to thunderstorms, but threw away a 3-1 lead in the second.

The Russian fired 35 winners in her victory on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

World No 1 Simona Halep, twice a runner-up, had her opener against 83rdranked American Alison Riske put back to tomorrow. – AFP