The 23-time Major champion Serena Williams kicked off the new season in style on Monday, beating Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 6-4 in the Yarra Valley Classic second round. It was Serena's first match since last year's Rolland Garros, experiencing an Achilles injury in Paris and barely recovering in time for the Aussie swing.
Mighty relieved for the fact the Australian Open was delayed for two weeks, Serena said she wouldn't have been able to get back at 100% in time had it started on January 18, as was initially planned. Williams saved all four break points against Gavrilova and earned three return games, enough to set the last 16 clash against Tsvetlana Pironkova.
Serena repelled three break points in the first game to avoid an early setback and took charge with breaks in games four and six. The second set was much more competitive and decided by that one break in the middle stages.
Serena Williams could have skipped the Australian Open.
Finding the range behind the initial shot, the Aussie fired an unreturned serve in game three to remain in front, already doing more than in the entire opening set.
Matching that pace, Serena closed the fourth game when Daria placed a loose drop shot and grabbed a break a few minutes later thanks to a loose backhand from the home player at the net. The American confirmed the advantage with a forehand drive-volley winner that sent her 4-2 in front and closer to the finish line.
Gavrilova survived the seventh game to remain within one break deficit and reached deuce on the return for the first time since the opening game a few minutes later. Serena brought the game home to move 5-3 ahead, serving for the victory two games later.
The American sealed the deal with a powerful forehand down the line winner for the season's first official victory, hoping for more in the rest of the event. "It was a good match for me. It wasn't easy at all, with a lot of rallies and movement.
Daria is a local player, and she played hard. It felt good to seal the victory in straight sets. I couldn't practice because of my Achilles, and I needed time. I don't think I would have been here if it was during the regular season.
The delay was an unwanted blessing. I took that time to recover and do the best that I can, and now it's a lot better. Achilles are like the worst thing, honestly. I didn't realize it would be this long, so I was pushing the limits, but I'm here," Serena Williams said.