Serena Williams Returns to U.S. Open’s Main Stage With Tidy Win

After all the fanfare and glitzy production value that has become the norm for an opening night in Flushing Meadows, Serena Williams returned to the United States Open with a fairly routine win.

The 17th-seeded Williams overcame some early minor struggles to outclass her opponent, No. 68 Magda Linette of Poland, 6-4, 6-0, in Williams’s first match in Arthur Ashe Stadium since 2016.

Much changed for Williams after that tournament two years ago. Five months later, she won the Australian Open for her 23rd Grand Slam title, the most in the Open era, and in September she gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian.

One of seven mothers in this year’s draw, Williams said she was particularly emotional on Monday, not because she was back at the tournament she has won six times, but because she was unable to say goodbye to her daughter, who was napping at the hotel when Williams had to leave for work.

“It kind of broke my spirit,” she said in an on-court interview after her win, eliciting a sympathetic “Aww” from the fans in the stadium.

But Williams, 36, showed plenty of spirit on the court, yelling and pumping her fists at a few key junctures in the match, and she smiled afterward as she told the fans how meaningful it was for her to feel the electricity of the New York crowd after a year away.

“It’s really one of the best feelings in the world,” she said.

Williams’s second-round opponent is Carina Witthöft of Germany, who beat the American Caroline Dolehide, 6-3, 7-6 (6). If Williams wins, she could end up facing her sister Venus in the third round. But Serena Williams wasn’t in the mood to look that far ahead on Monday.

“I’ve just got to play and hopefully get there,” she said.

Venus Williams, the No. 16 seed who has two U.S. Open titles, had to play Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 champion, in the first round, and needed 2 hours 55 minutes to outslug Kuznetsova, a wild-card entrant from Russia, in steamy conditions. Williams finally emerged with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory.

The Williams sisters did see one major obstacle wiped out of their quarter of the draw in the first match of the day at the new Louis Armstrong Stadium as Simona Halep, the No. 1 seed, was upset by the 44th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. That means that Halep, the defending French Open champion, will not be looming in the fourth round for whoever makes it that far.

Venus Williams faces No. 40 Camila Giorgi of Italy in her next match. A potential all-Williams meeting would take place on Friday.

Monday’s match was only Serena Williams’s fourth since she reached the Wimbledon final in July, losing to Angelique Kerber.

The pre-match ceremony Monday featured brief speeches by Billie Jean King and Virginia Wade to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 U.S. Open, the first of the Open era, which Wade won. Then Serena Williams came on court wearing a black dress and a grim expression. Early on, she was plagued by some unforced errors, which have been more commonplace since her return to the tour.

But by the second set she was firmly in control. She broke Linette in the first game and seemed to crush the younger player’s spirit, as well.

“Right now I just feel like I’m on the road to getting better,” Williams said. “I’m just going to be on that road until I get better.”

She improved to 18-0 in first round of the U.S. Open, and 68-1 over all in first rounds of majors (she lost to Virginie Razzano in her opening match at the 2012 French Open).

Williams has not won the U.S. Open since 2014, but she has won five Grand Slams since then, including Wimbledon and the Australian Open twice each. With one more U.S. Open title, she would break a tie with Chris Evert for the most in the Open era, and her next Grand Slam title would give her 24, tying her with Margaret Court for the most in any era.

Now, as a mother, she faces a more challenging task. Williams has discussed the guilt she sometimes feels when she leaves her daughter to go to work, but she said that she was starting to recognize the importance of pursuing her career and of allowing for moments to herself. That includes time spent playing tennis again under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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