IN GRAND SLAM RETURN IN PARIS
Ashley Marshall | May 29, 2018
Mama knows best. Twenty-three time Grand Slam women’s singles champion Serena Williams made a winning return to tennis’ biggest stage Tuesday, with a first-round victory at the French Open.
Williams, competing in a major for the first time since giving birth to daughter Olympia in September, defeated world No. 70 Kristyna Pliskova, 7-6, 6-4, in one hour, 45 minutes on Philippe-Chatrier Court.
Williams (pictured above) was far from her best in outlasting Pliskova, but considering everything she has been through over the past year, this victory is as good as any win in the first week of a major.
The American, who will turn 37 this fall, last stepped foot on a Grand Slam court at the 2017 Australian Open almost 18 months ago, when she was pregnant with Olympia. After winning the title for the seventh time, she subsequently missed the rest of the 2017 season and then decided not to defend her crown in Melbourne after post-birth complications left her fighting for her life and delaying her return.
On Tuesday, she came up against the twin of 2016 US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova, whom Williams may play in the fourth round.
Like Karolina, Kristyna has a game that is heavily dependent on her serve and is backed up with short rallies and attacks from the baseline.
In many ways, she was a perfect opponent for Williams, who, controversially unseeded on her return, avoided being drawn against a Top 32-ranked player. Pliskova hit 15 aces to Williams’ 13, and she also recorded more winners (34 to 29) and unforced errors (33 to 25) than the American, who broke three times in the second set to avoid having to play a third set.
Williams won the first set in a tiebreak after failing to convert the only break point of the set in the 13th game. She fell behind 2-0 to begin the second set before breaking Pliskova three consecutive times to forge a 4-3 advantage.
Pliskova saved a match point, then squandered three break points with Williams serving for a spot in the second round at 5-4, before Williams sealed the victory at her second opportunity.
Williams will play 17th-seeded Australian Ashleigh Barty on Thursday, with the winner set to meet either No. 11 seed Julia Goerges of Germany or Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium in the Round of 32.
Elsewhere on Day 3 in Paris, Steve Johnson upset No. 25 seed Adrian Mannarino of France, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2, and No. 9 seed John Isner defeated fellow American and USTA French Open Wild Card Challenge winner Noah Rubin, 6-3, 7-6, 7-6.
On the women’s side, Bethanie Mattek-Sands marked her return to Grand Slam action with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Johanna Larsson of Sweden. It was Mattek-Sands’ first major tournament back since suffering a knee injury in the second round of Wimbledon last July.
Also advancing to the second round was USTA French Open Wild Card Challenge winner Taylor Townsend, who beat France's Myrtille Georges, 6-4, 6-2, to set up a second-round match with either world No. 1 Simona Halep or American Alison Riske. It marks the third consecutive year Townsend has progressed into the second round in Paris. She has now won five main-draw matches in Paris, compared with her winless record in six main-draw matches at the other three majors combined.
It means that of the 30 Americans to begin the tournament, 13 players – nine women and four men – are into the second round.
On Tuesday, No. 14 seed Jack Sock lost to Estonian lucky loser Jurgen Zopp, 6-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, on Court 18; Ryan Harrison dropped a straight-sets decision to Maximilian Marterer, 6-1, 6-3, 7-5; and Tennys Sandgren lost to Hubert Hurkacz, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. In the women's draw, No. 16 seed Elise Mertens rallied to beat Varvara Lepchenko, 6-7, 7-6, 6-0.
Riske's first-round match against top seed Halep was pushed back to Wednesday after the other matches on Chatrier ran deep into the evening. Riske will be up first at 11 a.m. when play begins in the French capital on Day 4.