Serena Sublime In Comeback At Australian Open; Venus, Halep Escape

For the first time since her controversial loss in the US Open final to Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams returned to official pro tennis Tuesday in Melbourne, and the now-37-year-old didn’t disappoint.

The former No. 1 dominated fellow mother and Florida neighbor in Tatjana Maria winning the first nine games to roll 6-0, 6-2 in her Australian Open first round match which lasted under 50 minutes.

“She’s a tricky player,” Serena said. “Could have been easily a 6-3, 6-4 match or three-set match. She’s been able to beat top players, No. 1 and No. 2, so she knows how to play. I think always when I have a tougher round or I know someone that’s really good, I really want to be focused, and then that was really helpful for me today.”

Serena is a 7-time champion at the event, last winning in 2017 while pregnant. That was also her last Grand Slam trophy as the American resumes her chase of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.

“I have been going for the record what seems like forever now, so it doesn’t feel any different,” Serena said.

Venus, Serena’s 2017 opponent in the final, was nearly ushered out by Mihaela Buzarnescu. The Romanian had the 2-time Australian Open finalist on the ropes, serving for the match at 5-3 in the second. But Venus broke at love and held on for a tough 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-2 win.

“My opponent was playing really well,” the 38-year-old Venus said. “There are no easy matches here. I was really happy to be able to play better than an opponent who is really in form.

“There were moments where it looked like maybe she had the match at that time. I kind of just forgot the score and kind of focused on my game. That’s what’s great about tennis: the clock doesn’t run out.”

Also needing to come from behind was 2018 finalist Simona Halep. The Romanian took on Kaia Kanepi who she lost to in this same round at the US Open. And for the first hour, the result was trending the same with the Estonian in control.

But trying to snap a 5-match losing streak, Halep battled back for the win, her first since the Cincinnati semifinals last summer.

“I knew what I had to do against her, I knew she’s a very tough opponent,” Halep said. “I had to be so strong on the legs, to believe that I could win.

“It was good for me tonight, I can take a lot of confidence because it’s not easy facing Kaia. I’m really happy that I can play the next round, it will again be tough, but I just have to go back on court and try my best.”

Former 2-champion Victoria Azarenka left the press room in tears after failing to capitalize on a set and break lead on Laura Siegemund. The German stormed back to a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 win.

And in the nightcap, Naomi Osaka had no trouble with Magda Linette in a 6-4, 6-2 win.

Former semifinalists Elise Mertens, Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys were also winners. Bouchard now meets Serena on Thursday.

“I think she’s the greatest ever,” Bouchard said. “So it’s just so cool that I’ll be able to share the court with her and an opportunity to see how I compare to one of the best players. I mean, her ranking is top 20 right now, but to me she’s always basically No. 1.

“I admire obviously the longevity of her career, her dominance over such a long amount of time, how she’s come back so many times from injury, pregnancy, et cetera. I mean, I don’t want to talk about it too much and put her on too much of a pedestal because I have to play her in two days, but I love her.”

Wednesday sees the return of defending champion Caroline Wozniacki along with Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova and Ash Barty.

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