PARIS, May 27, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When three-time French Open champion Serena Williams began her 2019 Roland Garros campaign against Vitalia Diatchenko, ranked 83rd, from Russia, all eyes – at least those who weren’t focused on Serena’s Nike collection designed by Virgil Abloh – were on the 37-year-old’s knees and how well she could move.
After all, it’s the No. 10 seed Williams’ knees which have failed her and kept her from playing more this season. So, with minimal preparation, she arrived in Paris with only four matches under her belt – and just one on clay – since February. She withdrew from tournaments in both Miami and Rome because of injury, and before that retired from a match in Indian Wells due to a viral illness.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) 26. Mai 2019
Diatchenko, 28, whose C.V. included a 2018 first-round upset of Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon, took it to Williams from the outset on the strength of her strong first serve coupled with Serena’s inability to win return points and her numerous unforced errors. However, what started out looking like it would be Diatchenko’s first Top 10 win didn’t happen. She wasn’t able to outhit Williams.
Instead, Williams won 12 of the last 13 games – including the final nine – of this 90-minute match first-round encounter and put it away on her first match-point opportunity at love to win 2-6, 6-1, 6-0. It was the second time this year that she’s come back to win after losing the first set. She’s now 70-1 in first-round Grand Slam matches.
In Williams’ 17th appearance at Roland Garros in her quest to tie Margaret Court for the all-time Grand Slam record with 24 titles, Monday’s win was the 800th career WTA main draw triumph for Serena.
Williams finished with nine service aces, won 75 percent (28 of 37) of her first-serve points, broke her opponent in five of 11 tries and hit 25 winners. Diatchenko ended with 10 winners and 21 unforced errors.
In the end, Williams did what she does best – after she gave Paris a jolt. She rebounded from a bad set, then put together two outstanding ones that translated into victory. It was her second head-to-head win over the Russian and the first since Diatchenko retired from their 2015 U.S. Open first-round match. As she shook hands with Diatchenko and acknowledged the crowd afterward – then stopped to sign autographs on her way to do French and English-language interviews court side – it was precisely 7:30 p.m. as the skies remained sunny and the temperature stood steady at 21º-celsius.
“I didn’t play great in this match, you know, but it is what it is. I’m happy I got through it,” Williams, who won the French Open in 2002, 2013 and 2015, said in a post-match interview with Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim. “I’ve practiced so well and so hard, so I just have to hang in there.
“I tried to do my best and I realize I still have a long way to go.”
Asked about her new court couture, Williams said she’s excited about it because it’s an homage to her being a mom, a queen “as all moms are,” and a champion. “It’s all positive reinforcement for me and I love that.”
A rivalry between a kid and a veteran
Spaniard Carla Suárez Navarro, 30, a two-time French Open quarterfinalist, avoided becoming another first-round upset victim by overcoming No. 32 Dayana Yastremska, 2-6, 7-6 (0), 6-0, on Court 13. The 19-year-old Ukrainian teenager, who on Saturday won her third WTA title at Strasbourg, came within two points of defeating Suárez Navarro in straight sets.
The two have developed a bit of a rivalry, having played twice before in 2019. At the Australian Open, Yastremska won to reach the third round in achieving her best Grand Slam result. Then, the former World No. 6 avenged her loss recently in Rome. Like Monday on Court 13, each of their matches have gone three sets.
Suárez Navarro, who is now 10-1 in French Open first round matches, will face No. 514 Shelby Rogers of the United States, a 2016 Roland Garros quarterfinalist, who advanced over No. 92 Astra Sharma of Singapore, 6-3, 6-3.
Around Roland Garros
• No. 20 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium needed three sets to defeat No. No. 60 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and seven minutes. Mertens, who reached the fourth round last year at Roland Garros, won 49 percent of her receiving points and hit 26 winners. Next, she faces French teen wild card Diane Parry.
No. 25 seed Hsieh Su-Wei of Taipei hit 31 winners and moved into the second round with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 win over No. 79 Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
• No 30 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania fell to No. 58 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, 6-4, 6-4, who next will face No. 96 Sam Stosur. The 35-year-old Aussie veteran beat No. 40 Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
• No. 35 Sofia Kenin of the United States, advanced over Italian qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone, ranked No. 164, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
• No. 36 Danielle Collins of the United States, who went out in the first round a year ago, beat No. 57 Tatjana Maria of Germany, 6-0, 6-2 in just 68 minutes to advance against No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia.
• No. 63 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden defeated No. 28 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 7-5, in back of 28 winners and will now face No. 23 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia.
• No. 69 Andrea Petkovic of Germany, a 2014 Roland Garros semifinalist, went the distance to beat No. 62 Alison Riske of the United States, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, despite being outpointed 105-100.
• No. 99 Zaria Diyas of Kazakhstan beat French wild card Audrey Albie, ranked 289th, 6-2, 6-2 and next will face No. 68 Viktoria Kudermetova of Russia, who came back from 0-6 to upset No. 13 seed Caroline Wozniacki, 0-6, 6-3, 6-3.
• No. 137 Aliona Bolsova, a qualifier from Spain, advanced over No. 78 Vera Zvonareva of Russia, 6-4, 6-2. Her next opponent is No. 84 Sorana Cirstea of Romania.
What they’re saying
• Alizé Cornet, who is appearing in her 50th consecutive Grand Slam main draw, was asked to describe playing on the brand-new Court Simonne Mathieu, named after a former French Grand Slam champion: “The court is very pleasant. I think it will suddenly become my favorite court in Roland Garros. It’s a pity I started my adventure with a defeat on this court, but hopefully I will have an occasion of playing again. They did beautiful work with this incredible court.”
• Following her first-round win, No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty was asked to describe her thoughts about her new Fila kit, designed by the company’s creative director P.L. Rolando, which features lots of stripes. She said, “I don’t mind it. I think it looks pretty good against the clay, as well. … I think it pops. There’s a bit of black going around, as well, with a lot of the girls in black and in darker colors. But obviously, when I put it on, it’s not as out there as I thought it would be. But I’m happy to wear whatever. It’s comfortable, so I’m good to go.”
First round women’s singles
V. Kudermetova, Russia, d. No. 13 C. Wozniacki, Denmark, 0-6, 6-3, 6-3
No. 10 S. Williams, U.S., d. V. Diatchenko, Russia, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0
No. 4 K. Bertens, Netherlands, d. P. Parmentier, France, 6-3, 6-4
S. Cirstea, Romania, d. K. Juvan, Slovenia, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5
V. Kuzmova, Slovakia, d. A. Cornet, France, 6-4, 6-3
K. Kanepi, Estonia, d. No. 18 J. Goerges, Germany, 7-5, 6-1
No. 8 A. Barty, Australia, d. J. Pegula, U.S., 6-3, 6-3
Z. Ziyas, Kazakhstan, d. WC-A. Albie, France, 6-2, 6-2
No. 26 J. Konta, Great Britain, d. Q-A Lottner, Germany, 6-4, 6-4
J. Brady, U.S., d. I. Jorovic, Serbia, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-5
No. 23 D. Vekic, Croatia, d. Q-L. Samsonova, Russia, 6-2, 6-4
S. Zhang, China, d. Q-V. Lepchenko, U.S., 6-1, 6-1
No. 20 E. Mertens, Belgium, d. T. Zidansek, Slovenia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
L. Davis, U.S., d. K.R. Pliskova, Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-4
M. Minella, Luxembourg, d. A. Pavlyuchenkova, Russia, 6-4, 6-2
E. Alexandrova, Russia, d. No. 30 M. Buzarnescu, Romania, 6-4, 6-4
WC-D. Parry, France, d. V. Lapko, Belarus, 6-2, 6-4
R. Peterson, Sweden, d. Y. Putintseva, Kazakhstan, 6-3, 7-5
D. Collins, U.S. d. T Maria, Germany, 6-0, 6-2
A. Petkovic, Germany, d. A. Riske, U.S., 2-6, 6-3, 7-5
S. Rogers, U.S. d. A. Sharma, Singapore, 6-3, 6-3
Q-A. Bolsova, Spain, d. V. Zvonareva, Russia, 6-4, 6-2
P. Hercog, Slovenia, d. No. 32 A. Sasnovich, Belarus, 4-6, 6-2, 8-6
No. 12 A. Sevastova, Latvia, d. L. Kumkhum, Thailand, 6-1, 6-4
No. 28 C. Suárez Navarro, Spain, d. D. Yastremska, Ukraine, 2-6, 7-6 (0), 6-0
S. Kenin, U.S. def. Q-G. Gatto-Monticone, Italy, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2
No. 25 S.W. Hsieh, Taipei, d. V. Golubic, Switzerland, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0
LL-M. Bouzkova, Czech Republic, vs. No. 22 B. Andreescu, Canada, suspended
Q-K. Nara, Japan, vs. D. Jakupovic, Slovenia, suspended