Serena Williams overcomes slow start to move into French Open second round
Serena Williams recovered from a slow start to score a repeat win over fellow American Kristie Ahn in the first round of the French Open.
The pair also met in the first round of the US Open, where Williams won courtesy of a tight first set and a more comfortable second.
It was the same story here, where Williams looked uncomfortable on the damp, slow clay in the opening set, making 28 unforced errors and having to break Ahn when she served for the set.
Williams was much improved in the tie-break, though, and did not lose a game in the second set in a 7-6 (2) 6-0 victory.
A bit rusty and error-strewn at the beginning, Williams had to grind things out in the first set for 74 minutes against a persistent Ahn before she was able to move comfortably through the second in just 26 minutes. The bagel scoreline a touch unlucky on Ahn but her American opponent knows how to close out a match.
The three-time French Open champion faces Tsvetana Pironkova, who gave her so much trouble in their US Open quarterfinal earlier this month, in the second round.
Serving for the match, Williams opens with an ace. An overhead smash on the next. Ahn cannons her return wide on the next. Three match points. She misses on the first, hitting into the net, before a sliced backhand drifts long. A backhanded volley is into the net and it’s deuce.
Ace. Netted return. Advantage Ahn. Williams is making this finale messier than it needs to be.
But there it is. She brings up a match point again and signs off on an ace. GAME, SET AND MATCH WILLIAMS
As another shot passes her by, Ahn is already turning on her heels heading back to the baseline. It’s three break points Williams.
The first is saved with her trusty forehand. But the next is long.
The air has not completely gone out of Ahn’s tyres but they’re seriously deflated as Williams turns the screw. At 40-30, it’s far from an easy hold but Williams always seems in control. A couple of booming deep shots and Ahn is unable to return on the last one.
Ahn 6-7 (2-7) 0-3 Williams* (*denotes next server)
Ahn is not the sort to stop running but Williams is just too good, pulling her out of position and then going back behind. She does get on the board at 15-30 but a double fault brings up two break points.
The first is saved as Williams nets. Ahn then follows up a deep return by rushing to the net and saving the second.
Here’s a third though and Ahn’s power deserts her as she nets.
Ahn* 6-7 (2-7) 0-2 Williams (*denotes next server)
This could be over quite quickly. Williams races to a hold to love.
Ahn 6-7 (2-7) 0-1 Williams* (*denotes next server)
That’s a tough one to take for Ahn. She didn’t do a whole lot wrong but once Williams was able to cut down the error count she could close out the set.
Ahn immediately finds herself up against in this second set at break down. And when she goes long with the return, Williams is in control.
It’s a battle for Liam Broady out on court 10. He’s lost the opening set 6-2 to Vesely.
*Ahn 6-7 (2-7) Williams (*denotes next server)
One of the best rallies of the match. Williams turns defence into attack, finishing with a forehand winner. Ahn goes wide on the next to give her opponent four set points. And she needs just one chance, and one ace to wrap things up.
OPENING SET WILLIAMS
*Ahn 6-6 Williams (*denotes next server)
Ace Williams. And then the mini-break. Here’s a first dropshot of the match for Williams but Ahn is there quick as a flash for a cross-court winner. 1-2.
Too good by Ahn, moving Williams from one side of the court to the other and beating her with a forehand. 2-2. Back-to-back points for Williams and they switch ends at 4-2.
Ahn 6-6 Williams* (*denotes next server)
Right then Ahn, what have you got in your locker? 30-0 is a good start. And then quick feet and confident shots force Williams into a mistake into the tramlines for 40-0.
A whipped forehand gets Williams out of trouble on the next but she then nets, holding her racket in position post shot and staring in frustration. Tie-break it is.
*Ahn 5-6 Williams (*denotes next server)
That’s clever, Williams gets her opponent on the run and then puts the ball back behind her. She rushes in on the next serve to put away Ahn’s return for 40-0. And another powerful serve rounds off the game. Williams stepping things up when it matters. Like all good champions do.
Ahn 5-5 Williams* (*denotes next server)
Williams making her opponent work for this set, putting the ball back in court and daring her to make a mistake. It’s working at 0-30. A fierce cross-court forehand moves her into pole position with three break points.
First one drifts long of the baseline. Ahn then can’t get her return down the line to drop inside the line.
*Ahn 5-4 Williams (*denotes next server)
All that work. Undone. In mere moments. Unperturbed by that break, Ahn races into a 0-40 lead and as another extended rally ends with Williams nudging wide, Ahn is serving for the set.
Ahn 4-4 Williams* (*denotes next server)
The fancy new roof has been drawn back from Philippe-Chatrier as the Parisian skies lighten a touch. The former champion brings up break point but it’s dumped into the net.
Cry from Ahn this time as a backhand goes wide but an ace saves the break point. Trading of deuces and here’s another break point Williams. But she almost tosses it back lazily mid court and her opponent can swat away a winner.
Past the ten minutes mark now and the quality level has gone up. A lung-busting rally ends with Williams taking it. And another Williams break point. She cranks up the power – and the volume- with a ferocious backhand winner.
Ahn* 4-3 Williams (*denotes next server)
Ahn is moving Williams left and right, front and back. The latter does retrieve a dropshot this time and forces Ahn into a lob which is long to move to 30-15. A loose Ahn backhand into the tramlines makes it 40-15 before Williams does the damage with a serve out wide.
Ahn 4-2 Williams* (*denotes next server)
It doesn’t take a tennis expert to know that errors do not win you matches. Williams is chucking them in at regular intervals into each game currently, and so making that mountain to climb even harder. Another into the net concedes the game but equally Ahn still earnt that one, including another delightful dropshot.
Brit in action Broady
British players may have dropped like flies yesterday but there are two singles players left in the draw still, Liam Broady and Cameron Norrie. The former is about to make his main draw debut after coming through qualifying. He plays Czech world number 68 Jiri Vesely on court 10. I’ll keep you updated on that. Norrie on the same court after him.
Ahn* 3-2 Williams (*denotes next server)
Williams, perhaps mindful of the three double faults in her previous service game, going for accuracy over power with her serve as she races to 40-0. Eeek, there’s another two failures off the serve but the former French Open champion responds with an ace.
Ahn 3-1 Williams* (*denotes next server)
Ahn gave Williams a good match in New York before falling in straight sets. What can she do now with this early break? Well not falling 0-30 behind would be a start. But she gets it back to parity before a deft dropshot edges her ahead. Too many errors off the Williams racket and the American consolidates the break.
Ahn* 2-1 Williams (*denotes next server)
Ahn, boosted by her opening game, gets an early sniff of a break as she moves into a 15-40 lead. Williams saves the first and then a big serve has too much on it and Ahn goes wide with her return. Here’s another when Williams coughs up a double fault but a two handed-backhand kisses the back of the line.
It’s a real battle this game, and past the seven-minute mark as Williams gratefully watches a return go long to stave off a fourth break point. There’s an early trademark Serena Scream as she moves to advantage. But another double fault…
This is the game that never ends. But yes, on the fifth break point, and 24th point of the rally, Ahn finally gets her rewards.
Ahn 1-1 Williams* (*denotes next server)
Ahn also gets herself on the board with a fairly comfortable hold (not the best time for my internet to drop out but we’re back now…)
Ahn* 0-1 Williams (*denotes next server)
That’s how you get your French Open campaign underway, with a love to hold inside a minute.
Here we go
The players have finished their warm ups and we’re underway
Fancy seeing you again
As is ever the case when Serena Williams arrives at a Grand Slam, mention of that seemingly magical 24 number arises and whether the American will finally land the title that draws her level with Margaret Court’s tally of major singles titles.
Many thought she would do it in New York but she fell at the US Open semi-final stage to Victoria Azarenka, meaning Williams has still not won a major since the 2017 Australian Open when she was eight weeks pregnant.
With the quick turnaround between majors, Williams has not yet played a tune up match on the clay but there has been plenty of practice ahead of this tournament in the city of Paris that is so dear to her heart. There has also been a 39th birthday on Saturday, although celebrations would have no doubt been muted given the fortnight ahead.
Williams certainly knows how to win on clay with three French Open titles although the last of those came in 2015 and perhaps the fear factor for her opponents has diminished. “I think the only difference is that the end of September I usually end my season after the Open, this time around I’m here. It’s always cold for me. I feel like this year, you’ve just got to roll with the punches, you can’t expect anything. I’m not really feeling any bad way about anything really. I thoroughly enjoy the clay.”
Her opponent in the first round is compatriot Kristie Ahn, who is ranked No. 102 in the world. Ahn is best known for making the fourth round of the US Open last year, but is yet to win a main draw match at the French Open.
These two also met in the opening round at the US Open earlier this month with Williams putting in a dominant performance to win 7-5 6-3. Will it be much of the same today?