PARIS: Serena Williams made a slow but successful start on Monday to her latest pursuit of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros while US Open winner Dominic Thiem navigated a testing first-round tie against former major champion Marin Cilic.
The American star is chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam title to match Margaret Court’s all-time mark, but clay is her least favoured surface.
An error-prone beginning from Williams left world number 102 Kristie Ahn serving for the first set before the three-time Roland Garros champion prevailed 7-6 (7-2), 6-0.
Williams, playing at the French Open for the 18th time, dropped serve twice as Ahn moved 5-4 ahead in the opener in a rematch of their first-round encounter at Flushing Meadows.
But the sixth seed forced a tie-break that she sealed with an ace after a 74-minute slog before charging to an ultimately comfortable victory.
Williams, seeded sixth here, has not gone beyond the last 16 in Paris since her defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final. Her last major came at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.
Meanwhile Thiem, the runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Paris the past two years, defeated 2014 US Open champion Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in their second meeting at a major this month. Having captured his maiden Slam in New York, Thiem is trying to become the only man in the Open era to win his first two majors at successive tournaments.
A steady display from Thiem saw the Austrian break Cilic six times under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier on another gloomy day at Roland Garros, pushed back from its customary May-June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The competition began on Sunday amid steady drizzle in temperatures struggling to reach 10 degrees (50F), conditions branded ‘ridiculous’ by US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka.
Play on Monday was initially delayed by more persistent rain. Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova defeated Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 in the only match to start on time under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens recovered from a poor start once conditions improved to overhaul 112th-ranked Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
Third seed Elina Svitolina scrapped past Varvara Gracheva of Russia 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 while last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova was bundled out 6-1, 6-2 by 2018 junior champion Iga Swiatek.
Overall prize money at this year’s event is down 11 percent at 14,491,000 euros, but players beaten in the first round will receive 60,000 euros — a 30 percent increase compared to 2019.
Results on Monday (prefix number denotes seeding):
First round: Hugo Gaston (France) bt Maxime Janvier (France) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-3; Yoshihito Nishioka (Japan) bt 19-Felix Auger-Aliassime (Canada) 7-5, 6-3, 6-3; Tommy Paul (US) bt James Duckworth (Australia) 6-2, 6-3, 6-2; Jack Sock (US) bt Reilly Opelka (US) 6-4, 6-4, 6-3; 3-Dominic Thiem (Austria) bt Marin Cilic (Croatia) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3; Pierre-Hugues Herbert (France) bt Michael Mmoh (US) 6-3, 6-2, 6-3; Mikhail Kukushkin (Kazakhstan) bt 14-Fabio Fognini (Italy) 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-0; Pedro Martinez (Spain) bt Aleksandar Vukic (Australia) 7-5, 6-4, 6-0.
First round: Bernarda Pera (US) bt Cici Bellis (US) 7-6 (7-3), 6-1; 25-Amanda Anisimova (US) bt Tamara Korpatsch (Germany) 6-2, 6-0; Iga Swiatek (Poland) bt 15-Marketa Vondrousova (Czech Republic) 6-1, 6-2; Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt 28-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) 6-1, 2-6, 6-1; Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic) bt Lauren Davis (US) 7-6 (7-5), 6-2; Sara Errani (Italy) bt Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) 6-2, 6-1; 5-Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) bt Katarina Zavatska (Ukraine) 2-6, 6-2, 6-0; 3-Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) bt Varvara Gracheva (Russia) 7-6 (7-2), 6-4; Renata Zarazua (Mexico) bt Elsa Jacquemot (France) 6-1, 6-2; Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria) bt Andrea Petkovic (Germany) 6-3, 6-3; 6-Serena Williams (US) bt Kristie Ahn (US) 7-6 (7-2), 6-0; Christina McHale (US) bt 22-Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic) 6-2, 6-4; 7-Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) bt Oceane Dodin (France) 6-3, 7-5; Jasmine Paolini (Italy) bt Aliona Bolsova (Spain) 6-4, 6-3.
Sunday’s remaining results:
First round: Radu Albot (Moldova) bt Jordan Thompson (Australia) 6-2, 6-4, 6-1; Norbert Gombos (Slovakia) bt 24-Borna Coric (Croatia) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Jurij Rodionov (Austria) bt Jeremy Chardy (France) 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 10-8; 12-Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) bt Miomir Kecmanovic (Serbia) 6-0, 6-1, 6-3; 16-Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) bt Andy Murray (Great Britain) 6-1, 6-3, 6-2; Dominik Koepfer (Germany) bt Antoine Hoang (France) 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1; Juan Ignacio Londero (Argentina) bt Federico Delbonis (Argentina) 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), 2-6, 1-6, 14-12; 23-Benoit Paire (France) bt Soonwoo Kwon (South Korea) 7-5, 6-4, 6-4; 6-Alexander Zverev (Germany) bt Dennis Novak (Austria) 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.
First round: Irina-Camelia Begu (Romania) bt Jil Teichmann (Switzerland) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; Daria Gavrilova (Australia) bt 24-Dayana Yastremska (Ukraine) 6-4, 6-3; Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) bt Anna Kalinskaya (Russia) 6-4, 6-4; Coco Gauff (US) bt 9-Johanna Konta (Great Britain) 6-3, 6-3; Martina Trevisan (Italy) bt Camila Giorgi (Italy) 7-5, 3-0 — Giorgi retired; Caroline Garcia (France) bt 17-Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) 6-4, 3-6, 6-4; Nadia Podoroska (Argentina) bt Greet Minnen (Belgium) 6-2, 6-1; 23-Yulia Putintseva (Kazakhstan) bt Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium) 6-1, 6-2; 23-Barbora Strycova (Czech Republic) bt Varvara Lepchenko (US) 7-5, 6-5; Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic) bt Nina Stojanovic (Serbia) 6-3, 7-5.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020