Serena Williams has overcome a slow start to advance to the second round of the French Open in ‘brutal’ fashion.
Sixth seed Williams battled sluggish conditions to defeat fellow American Kristie Ahn 7-6 (7-2) 6-0 to open her quest for a record-equalling 24th grand slam crown.
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Playing against an opponent she defeated at the same stage at the US Open less than a month ago, Williams found herself trailing twice in the opening set at the Court Philippe Chatrier but rallied each time to force a tie-breaker.
Williams, who has won three of her 23 grand slam singles titles at Roland Garros, raised her level in the tie-breaker and did not look back from there, handing the 102nd-ranked Ahn a bagel in the second set.
The 39-year-old had to dig deep to find a way to win points in the cold and heavy conditions and needed five match points to seal the victory and set up a second round meeting against Tsvetana Pironkova, who beat Andrea Petkovic 6-3 6-3.
Ahn is now the only player to face Williams in the first round at two consecutive grand slam tournaments. Williams is 75-1 in openers at majors.
“I mean, I laughed,” Ahn said. “I mean, what are the odds?”
Yet she was up to the task for most of a 72-minute, 102-point initial set Monday, twice leading it by a break.
But Williams was more herself for the latter half of the contest, which by the end really wasn’t much of a contest.
And this is how Ahn described the sensation of being across the net from that version of Williams, the one where she is at her very best.
“It feels like you're trying to push a runaway train in the opposite direction,'“ Ahn said.
“It's very difficult to try and stop, to stop her momentum when she's going, when she's feeling it.”
Fans were left stunned by Serena’s slow start, and even more so by her brutal performance in the second.
Nadal eases into French Open second round
Meanwhile, claycourt master Rafael Nadal has started his quest for a record-extending 13th French Open title with a straightforward 6-4 6-4 6-2 first-round win against Belarusian Egor Gerasimov.
The Spaniard, looking to equal Roger Federer's record of 20 grand slam men's singles titles, is used to slow starts at Roland Garros and this year's debut was no different.
On the revamped court Philippe Chatrier, whose roof stayed open throughout, Nadal converted all of his five break points to set up a meeting with American Mackenzie McDonald.
The second seed, who had complained about the new balls being too heavy, did not appear too bothered in front of 200 fans, wrapping up the match with a service winner.
Nadal broke in the fifth game as he bagged the opening set in solid fashion, and he stole his opponent's serve again in the third game of the second.
With a mountain to climb after falling two sets behind and as blue skies ate away the dark clouds, Gerasimov broke for 2-0 in the third set.
Nadal quickly regained control, however, and levelled for 2-2, with Gerasimov twisting his ankle on the last point of the fourth game.
The physiotherapist taped the Belarusian's ankle and play resumed after a short interruption with Nadal breaking again for 3-2.
Gerasimov's challenge was fading as Nadal piled on the pressure to seal a routine win, moving a step closer to a potential semi-final with last year's runner-up Dominic Thiem.
US Open champion Thiem cruised to a 6-4 6-3 6-3 first round win over Croatia's Marin Cilic earlier on Monday.
In other men’s play, 19th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime lost to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 7-5 6-3 6-3.
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