Seven-time AO champion Serena Williams sent a warning shot to the field, storming into the second round Tuesday with a 6-0 6-2 win over Tatjana Maria is 49 curt minutes.
Returning to the site of her 23rd and last major at AO2017, while pregnant with daughter Olympia, now 16 months old, Williams signalled to this ostensibly open field that her charge for an eighth Australian title is on course, at age 37. So too a record-equalling 24th major (joining Aussie great Margaret Court).
Williams had been unusually low-key ahead of her appearance in Rod Laver Arena, declining the pre-tournament round of media and interviews. But over the weekend she posted a practice video on Twitter with a single-word caption: ‘Ready.’ ‘Nuff said.
Stretching in the hallway ahead of the match, headphones clamped on, Serena took the court in a knee-length black jacket that recalled the robe of a prizefighter. She unzipped the jacket to reveal a green one-piece play suit, worn over compression stockings. As if her game isn’t formidable enough, Serena has always been aware of the power of her appearance.
The full power of her game was unleashed in quick time, breaking at the first opportunity with a crunching forehand return winner, rolling a dipping backhand pass to go 3-0 and more than willing to venture forward, a smash winner sealing the first set in 18 minutes.
The No.74 ranked Maria, overwhelmed in her first meeting with the 23-time major winner, laboured to finally get onto the scoreboard in the 10th game, even then needing to stave off two break points. She even managed to hold to love in her next service game. A fellow tennis mum, Maria famously used her maternity break to retool her backhand into a single-hander. It wasn’t nearly enough to pressure Serena.
In truth, Maria always loomed a comfortable opponent for Williams. The 31-year-old won her first WTA title in June, and collected 13 wins in 30 events last season. The German, a first round loser here last year to Maria Sharapova, came in with one win in 2019, over No.284 Abbie Myers.
Serena meanwhile, though below her best, won all three matches at the Hopman Cup – over Maria Sakkari, Belinda Bencic and Katie Boulter – in her only event since the US Open in September. But she’s used to a light lead-up and hitting ominous form in Melbourne, where she is the leading title-winner in the Open era.
“I like to jump in the deep end,” as she told the crowd post-match.
Despite appearances, this was a friendly battle between two tennis mums – though not your usual Tuesday midweek types. Serena has a bit more coffee money, with $88 million in career prize money, while Maria logged a tour-leading 33 events in 2017, with daughter Charlotte in tow. Charlotte and Olympia are tour playmates.
“I wish we could’ve played each other later on,” Williams said, of eliminating one of four mums in the draw.
The AO2017 victory over big sister Venus – her last title win and with Olympia on board – was in a word, “insane,” Williams reflected. “It felt kinda weird walking back on by myself this time.
“So many great memories – literally the best win of my career.”
A quick day at the office gave Serena some extra family time, perhaps to greater acquaint Olympia with the city where she and her mum won a Grand Slam together – Alexis Olympia, after all, shares her initials with the Australian Open.
Source: Suzi Petkovski