Sixth seed Serena Williams battled sluggish conditions to defeat fellow American Kristie Ahn 7-6(2) 6-0 to begin her French Open campaign on Monday.
Playing an opponent she beat in straight sets at the same stage at the U.S. Open less than a month ago, Williams found herself struggling to win points on Court Philippe-Chatrier where the roof was opened just before the match.
Williams started with three aces to win her opening game but the 102nd-ranked Ahn started moving better and chased down her opponent’s heavy groundstrokes, which on most surfaces would have ended up as winners.
Ahn, who was making her main-draw debut at Roland Garros, went up 3-1 and served for the set at 5-4 but the 39-year-old Williams rallied each time to force a tiebreaker.
Williams, who has won three of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at Roland Garros, raised her level in the tiebreaker and did not look back from there, handing the hapless Ahn a bagel in the second set.
“The biggest difference was just confidence,” Williams told reporters. “I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena. So that was it.
“I just started playing like that, opening the court and moving and sliding. I do think her level dropped a little bit in the beginning of the second set and I took advantage of that.”
The American, bidding to match Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam titles, hit her 11th ace on her fifth matchpoint to seal the victory in an hour and 41 minutes.
Williams had 28 of her 36 unforced errors in the opening set while she hit 26 winners in all.
Next up for the American will be a second-round meeting against fellow mother Tsvetana Pironkova, who earlier beat Andrea Petkovic 6-3 6-3.
“She’s playing well but I am too. I’m ready to play her. She’ll be ready to play me,” Williams said of her next opponent. “It will be a long match, she will get a lot of balls back but so will I. I’ll be ready.”
Williams and Pironkova met in the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open this month, when the Bulgarian went down in three sets.
“It’s always exciting to face her, especially after our last match,” said Pironkova. “We played three sets, it was very exciting match, so we’ll see. I’m definitely very excited.”
Claycourt master Rafael Nadal 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 on Monday.
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 some 200 fans, wrapping up the match with a service winner.
“I want to play matches with a positive attitude. It’s a different Roland Garros with challenging weather conditions,” said Nadal.
With his topspin having less of a devastating effect on the heavier clay, Nadal had to adapt and play more aggressively than usual, taking the ball earlier to unsettle his opponent — a tactic that worked perfectly.
He 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.
1500 SVITOLINA EASES INTO ROUND TWO
Strasbourg champion Elina Svitolina, chasing her maiden Grand Slam title, extended her brilliant run on clay with a 7-6(2) 6-4 victory over Russian Varvara Gracheva.
1450 FOGNINI MAKES FIRST-ROUND EXIT
Fabio Fognini was knocked out by Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round, with the Kazakh winning 7-5 3-6 7-6(1) 6-0 on Court Simonne Mathieu.
Fognini, ranked 14 in the world, has won only once in four tournaments now since the season restarted last month and the Italian 14th seed was far from his best, making 48 unforced errors.
1350 ERROR-PRONE AUGER ALIASSIME OUT IN STRAIGHT SETS
Canadian youngster Felix Auger Aliassime was knocked out 7-5 6-3 6-3 by Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
Nishioka fired 30 winners past the 19th seed, who made 58 unforced errors and was broken six times.
1305 BERTENS FIGHTS BACK TO BEAT ZAVATSKA
Fifth-seeded Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens came back from a set down to overcome Ukraine’s Katarina Zavatska 2-6 6-2 6-0.
Bertens will next face 2012 finalist Sara Errani, who had to come through qualifying before claiming a 6-2 6-1 opening-round win over Puerto Rican Monica Puig.
1300 DOMINANT THIEM PASSES CILIC TEST
U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem, twice French Open runner-up, recovered from a slow start to beat former world number three Marin Cilic 6-4 6-3 6-3 in just over two hours.
1230 PIRONKOVA GLIDES PAST PETKOVIC
Bulgarian wildcard Tsvetana Pironkova, who reached the U.S. Open quarter-finals in her first tour-level appearance since 2017, breezed into the second round in Paris with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.
045 KVITOVA SAILS INTO SECOND ROUND
Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova advanced to the second round with a 6-3 7-5 victory over local favourite Oceane Dodin, firing eight aces and 30 winners while winning 86% of her first serve points.
0908 PLAY UNDERWAY AT ROLAND GARROS
Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova began her first-round match against unseeded Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin under the retractable roof at Court Philippe-Chatrier.
The event will welcome 1,000 fans daily amid the COVID-19 pandemic.