Roland Garros: Serena Williams rediscovers winning ways in Paris


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Roland Garros: Serena Williams rediscovers winning ways in Paris

Completely covered in a Catwoman-style black dress, Serena Williams reached 317 Grand Slam match wins. In her first appearance in a major since her 2017 Australian Open triumph, Serena dismissed Kristyna Pliskova, whose sister remains the last player to have beaten the greatest player of all time according to Roger Federer in a Slam.

Serena needed a few games to find her rhythm but managed to hold off Pliskova’s challenge, 7-6(4), 6-4. Despite five fewer winners, 29 to 34, Serena committed 25 unforced errors to 34 and completed the match winning 80% of her first serve points.

Serena struggled to read the Czech’s big serve in the opening exchanges, but Pliskova lacked variety and efficiency in return as Serena lost just a single point on her first deliveries in the opening set. The American got her first look at a break point late when Pliskova offered her a set point before sealing it with a timely ace.

Pliskova made the perfect start in the tiebreak, building up a 3-0 lead, but Serena clinched six points in a row, and finally closed out the tiebreak after Pliskova sailed a backhand long.In the second Serena, who completed her first win of the season against a lefty player, the 168th in her career on clay, twice gave a break back to the Czech who started to play flatter and deeper down the line forehands in the second set.

But Serena finally emerged with the lead to get ahead 4-3, and she held onto that lead to finish the 73rd main draw match at Roland Garros – the most matches played here in Paris amongst active players. The younger of the Williams sister, who lost in the first round at Grand Slam level only once in 2012, when the defeat against Virginie Razzano persuaded her to start a brand new partnership with Patrick Mouratoglou, gave Pliskova the fourth first-round defeat in as many appearances here.

Bidding to win her fourth Roland Garros singles title, which would see her join Justine Henin and Helen Wills Moody in fourth place on the all-time titles leaderboard (after Evert-7; Graf-6; Court-5), Serena will take on No.17 seed Ashleigh Barty in the second round as she seeks a fourth Roland Garros crown, having triumphed here in 2002, 2013 and 2015.

In the Open Era, Williams’ 11-year gap between her first two titles here is the longest gap for a woman at any Grand Slam. Barty, considered in doubt after the injury that forced here to retire in Strasbourg, lived up to her first-time seeding at Roland Garros with a thumping 6-3 6-1 victory over Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva in 64 minutes.

No.11 seed Julia Goerges reached the second round of the French Open and completed her 258th career win by beating No.32 Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 5-7, 6-0. The German delivered 17 aces and 47 winners to only 23 unforced errors to give the 2009 semifinalist her second first-round loss at Roland Garros.

Making the 10th consecutive main draw appearance in Paris, playing this fortnight ranked No.11, the WTA ace-leader improved to 23-18 the win-loss record in Grand Slam opening-round matches. Goerges, who lost to a player ranked outside the Top 30 at her last five Grand Slams – 2017 Australian Open (No.54 Jankovic), 2017 Roland Garros (No.82 Brengle), 2017 Wimbledon (No.35 Tsurenko), 2017 US Open (No.83 Stephens) and 2018 Australian Open (No.42 Cornet) - completed at the first chance her 74th win to 78 defeats in three-set matches at WTA level.

She will now face former quarter-finalist Alison Van Uytvanck. In one of four all-country match-ups in the opening round of Roland Garros, Angelique Kerber won the 14th straight match against German players. The former world No.1 needed an hour to dismiss Mona Barthel who owns 13 career wins over Top 20 players, most recently against No.18 Strycova at Prague in 2017.

Barthel, the last countrywoman to beat Goerges, in 2013, looked subdued against the higher-ranked opponent, bidding to reach at least the quarterfinal, equalling her best result here, in the only Slam where she hasn't reached the final.

Caroline Garcia showed her first "Fly with Caro", the nowadays usual celebration, after a dominating 6-1 6-0 win over Ying-Ying Duan. In the second set, the Chinese won just 10 points, and six came thanks to her opponent's unforced errors.

Garcia, one of 10 French women in the main draw, the second most of any country after USA with 19, gave Duan her 13th defeat in 13 meetings against Top 10 players. Making her eighth main draw appearance at Roland Garros (and ninth appearance overall), after her maiden major quarter-final reached last year, Garcia salvaged a slim chance of ascending to World No.1 this fortnight: she would need to win the title with Wozniacki not reaching R16, Halep losing before the semis and Muguruza going out before the final.

Garcia, who hasn't lost in a Grand Slam event to an opponent ranked as low as No.111 Duan since falling to No.114 Siniakova at 2016 Wimbledon, extended to 16-9 her record in Slam first-round matches. Garcia, who celebrated her 28th major match win, will face Shuai Peng who beat 6-3 6-4 Aleksandra Krunic in her first WTA victory of the season.

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