Serena Williams began her drive for an elusive 24th Grand Slam title on Monday with a 7-6 (2), 6-0 first-round victory over Kristie Ahn at the French Open in Paris.
The sixth-seeded Williams found herself behind early when her American opponent broke her serve in the third game — the first of two times Williams found herself down a break point in the first set.
Williams broke back both times to square the match, leading to the tiebreak. And Williams was dominant in the tiebreak, winning points on three of Ahn’s four serves, and in the second set, which she swept in 30 minutes.
Williams hit 26 winners but had 36 unforced errors, which she compensated for with 11 aces. She won points on 70 percent of her first serves.
She said she needed to find her groove.
“The biggest difference was just confidence,” Williams said after the match. “I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena.
“So that was it. I just started playing like that, and I love the clay and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”
It was a rematch of the opening round of the U.S. Open, which Williams won 7-5, 6-3 on Sept. 1.
Williams, who turned 39 on Saturday, has not captured a Grand Slam title since she won the Australian Open in 2017. Her 24th win would tie Margaret Court for the most Grand Slam wins in history. She won her third and most recent title at Roland Garros in 2015.
Three other women seeded in the top 10 and who figure to stand in Williams’ way all won their first-round matches on Monday.
Third-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine defeated Russian Varvara Gracheva 7-6 (2), 6-4 in 97 minutes. Svitolina won the tuneup event in Strasbourg last week.
“It wasn’t easy,” she said about Monday’s match. “I was leading in the first set and Varvara really stepped up her game. She started hitting the ball much better and made me work for the first set.
“She got the momentum going in the second set. For me, it was important for me to play every point and not lose my focus. I found a way and played much better.”
No. 5 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands outlasted Katarina Zavatska with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory, needing two hours and seven minutes to top her Ukrainian challenger.
“It was really tough. She started really well and I was rushing a bit. It’s really tough to play aggressive here and to hit winners. In the second and third set I was much more patient,” said Bertens, a semifinalist in the 2016 French Open.
And the No. 7 seed, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, moved on to the second round by beating Oceane Dodin of France 6-3, 7-5 in 79 minutes.
American Madison Keys suffered the biggest upset of the first round so far as the No. 12 seed was ousted by Zhang Shuai of China, 6-3, 7-6 (2). Iga Swiatek of Poland eliminated No. 15 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2 in just 65 minutes. Vondrousova was a finalist at Roland Garros in 2019.
Three Americans — No. 25 Amanda Anisimova, Christina McHale and Bernarda Pera — advanced after straight-set wins.
–Field Level Media