WASHINGTON, May 29, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
It didn’t matter whether unseeded Serena Williams won or lost in her first Grand Slam appearance since the Australian Open in 2017 – although, it seemed, most of the fans packed into Court Philippe Chatrier late Tuesday afternoon wanted to see Serena do well in her return from maternity leave after giving birth to her first child last September, then getting married. After all, the greatest player in the history of women’s tennis, arrived at this year’s French Open ranked No. 451 because of her inactivity, but no less in pursuit of her 24th Grand Slam singles title.
When she walked out on the court at Roland Garros to play unseeded and 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic, twin sister of No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova, Serena got everyone’s attention for what she wore. Soon, heads were turning and everyone wanted to capture the moment on their smartphone cameras for the ages. You see, the 23-time Grand Slam champion and three-time Roland Garros winner wore a mostly black, skin-tight bodysuit from Nike with just a hint of fuchsia around the waistline. The new form-fitting look – that of a Black Panther movie superhero – drew a variety of comments via Twitter during the match, including from former NBA player Jason Collins, who tweeted: “The catsuit is back and it’s having my queen looking like a superhero!”
— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins98) 29. Mai 2018
Her new look aside, Williams returned to Grand Slam tennis with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 first-round victory over Pliskova, who served 15 aces – most against Williams in a single match. It was just Serena’s fifth tour-level match this season and her first competitive clay-court match since the final of the 2016 French Open, when she was upset by Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-5, 6-4. Williams hit 13 aces to go with seven double faults against Pliskova. Her first-serve percentage was 55 percent. She won 80 percent (42 of 52) of her first-serve points, but had trouble converting second-serve points, winning just 16 of 41 opportunities (39 percent). She hit 29 winners, but committed 25 unforced errors. Williams outpointed Pliskova, 84-77.
Earlier this year, Serena withdrew from clay-court tournaments in Madrid and Rome, opting to train in southern France with her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. On Thursday, Williams will play No. 17 seed Ash Barty of Australia, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 79 Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia.
After her triumph Tuesday, Williams was asked on court by Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim to describe her performance. She said, “Today wasn’t easy. It was a really tough effort, but I’ll tell my daughter one day that I had fun. It’s a pleasure to be able to play. After everything I went through just to be able to step out on the court, winning is a bonus.”
During her post-match press conference, Williams was asked if she’s at Roland Garros merely to compete or because she truly believes she can win it all? “I don’t know. I’m definitely here to compete and do the best that I can do, obviously,” she said. “I’m not putting any pressure on myself as I normally do. I think deep down we all know the answer to that.”
Then, Serena chimed in on her new outfit.
“I feel like a warrior in it, like a warrior princess kind of, (a) queen from Wakanda.
I’m always living in a fantasy world. I always wanted to be a superhero, and it’s kind of my way of being a superhero.
I feel like a superhero when I wear it.”
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) 29. Mai 2018
Earlier Tuesday on Court Philippe Chatrier, reigning French Open mens’ champion Rafael Nadal fought off four set points like only he can do – going all out – and wrapped up a rain-delayed, first-round win over lucky loser Simone Bolleli of Italy, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (9), that began on Monday. It was Nadal’s 80th career French Open singles victory and moved him one round closer to winning his 11th Coupe des Mousquetaires. The World No. 1 next faces Argentina’s Guido Pella, ranked No. 78, who beat Joao Sousa of Portugal, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
The 32-year-old Bolleli, a “lucky loser” replacement for injured Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, attacked from start to finish – and his “red-lining” approach, in which he hit returns with as much strength and energy as he could muster, gave him a 3-0 lead in the third set when play was suspended by rain Monday evening. However, when they resumed Tuesday afternoon, Nadal went to work and, eventually, took the third set to a tie-break. After saving one of the set points with a dazzling inside-out forehand, Nadal followed with a fist-pump to rally both himself and his fans.
During his media gathering after his match, Nadal addressed why he refuses to be beaten. He said, “I respect the sport, I respect every opponent, and I respect the competition every day. That’s the reason I have success, because I go every day on court knowing that I can win, that I can lose, and that’s the sport. So, anything can happen.”
Meanwhile, No. 28 seed Maria Sharapova won the final six games of her first-round match against Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands – including making a comeback from down 3-0 in the final set – to rally for a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Her next opponent will be No. 50 Donna Vekic of Croatia.
After dropping eight of nine games in the second set, the former World No. 1 and five-time Grand Slam champion from Russia, came back to win her first match at Roland Garros since 2015. She missed 2016 while serving a doping suspension and was not granted a wild card last year.
Sharapova converted seven of 11 break-point opportunities and hit 35 winners against Hogenkamp. She outpointed the Dutchwoman 84-70 during the 1 hour and 54 minute match.
• No. 5 seed Juan Martín del Potro came from down a set against No. 116 Nicolas Mahut of France, and won 1-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
• Unseeded American Steve Johnson, ranked 46th, upset No. 25 seed Adrian Mannarino of France, 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-2, for his third win over a seeded player in a major.
No. 14 seed Jack Sock of the United States was upset by qualifier Jurgen Zopp of Estonia, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, on Court 18 in a match that lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes.
• No. 16 seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain advanced over Alex De Minaur of Australia, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, on Court 3.
• No. 18 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy defeated No. 128 Pablo Andujar of Spain, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, on Court 7.
No. 28 seed Feliciano Lopez of Spain was upset by No. 127 Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, on Court 6.
In an all-German match, Mischa Zverev beat Florian Mayer, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (3), on Court 14. Zverev outpointed Mayer, 97-72 in 1 hour and 51 minutes.
• No. 7 seed Caroline Garcia needed just 58 minutes to beat No. 111 Yingying Duan of China, 6-1, 6-0, on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
• No. 11 seed Julia Goerges advanced with a win over No. 32 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, 6-4, 5-7, 6-0, on Court 1.
• No. 12 seed Angelique Kerber beat Mona Barthel, 6-2, 6-3 in an all-German matchup on Court 7 that lasted just 60 minutes. Kerber controlled the net and converted seven of eight break points. She outpointed Barthel, 60-43.
• No. 18 Kiki Bertens of Belgium easily defeated No. 48 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 6-2, 6-1, on Court 7.
Behind the baseline:
The last time Serena Williams dropped a set in the first round of a Grand Slam occurred in 2012 at Roland Garros against Virginie Razzano. Seeded No. 5, Williams lost the match, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3. She’s won all of her other 60 first-round Grand Slam matches when she’s been successful in winning the opening set.
Looking ahead to Day 4:
Women’s No. 1 seed Simona Halep finally takes court against Alison Riske of the United States on Court Philippe Chatrier in the first of four matches on Wednesday beginning at 11 a.m. local time. Her match was original scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed because of darkness. Others on the main show court include: No. 19 seed Kei Nishikori versus Benoit Paire, No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki versus Georgina Garcia Perez and No. 15 seed Lucas Pouille versus Cameron Norrie.
Others in action include: No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina, No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, No. 20 seed Novak Djokovic, No. 8 seed David Goffin, and No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev.