Sports

FRENCH OPEN

Serena Williams wins her opener in return to French Open

Serena Williams of the U.S. clenches her fist after scoring a point against Krystina Pliskova of the Czech Republic during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Tuesday, May 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Serena Williams is pumped up after winning a point.

PARIS — For all that has changed in the 16 months since Serena Williams last played in a Grand Slam tournament — she is now married and a mother — so much was familiar about her at the French Open Tuesday.

The fashion statement, this time in the form of a black bodysuit with a red waistband. The cries of ‘‘Come on!’’ The big serves that provided 13 aces. The return game that produced three consecutive breaks of serve.

And, yes, the victory. Competing as a mom for the first time at a major, and only about nine months since giving birth to her daughter, Williams beat 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 at Roland Garros.

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Already a transcendent sports star and cultural icon, Williams now carries a new title: working mother.

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‘‘Well, my priority is Olympia,” she said. “No matter what, that’s my priority. I have given tennis so much, and tennis has actually given me a lot, and I couldn’t be more grateful. She’s my priority, and I work everything around her.’’

The 36-year-old American had not played in one of tennis’s biggest tournaments since the Australian Open in January 2017, when she won her 23rd Grand Slam title. That broke a tie with Steffi Graf for the most in the Open era.

Only later did Williams reveal that she was pregnant while playing in Australia. Her baby was born on Sept. 1, and Williams married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in November.

Williams eventually revealed that she had an emergency cesarean section, then encountered trouble breathing afterward because of a pulmonary embolism and needed a follow-up operation.

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‘‘Just literally not sure if I was going to make it or not at several different times,’’ Williams said. ‘‘A lot of people have really reached out, because they have so many similar stories, too.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t talk about it. They talk about the baby and how happy they are. But it’s a lot that goes into it with the pregnancy and with giving birth, and it’s called a ‘miracle’ for a reason.’’

Williams reaches for a backhand.
GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Williams reaches for a backhand.

The first glimpse of Williams as she prepared for her comeback came in an exhibition in December against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. Next came a doubles match with older sister Venus for the US Fed Cup team in February. Then came singles matches that actually counted, with two wins at Indian Wells, Calif., before a loss to Venus, followed by a first-round loss at the Miami Open on March 21.

Williams then took another break to work on her game, and that absence of more than two months ended Tuesday.

So a woman who has spent hundreds of weeks ranked No. 1 is currently No. 451 and unseeded at the French Open, a subject of some debate: Should her past success accord her the protection a seeding offers? Williams faces 17th-seeded Ash Barty of Australia next.

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‘‘She’s a genuine champion,’’ Barty said. ‘‘What she’s done to be able to get back . . . is a pretty amazing thing.’’

The very first game featured an ace at 112 m.p.h., and when it ended with Pliskova netting a backhand, the chair umpire intoned, ‘‘Jeu, Madame Williams,’’ — French for ‘‘Game, Mrs. Williams,’’ a change from the ‘‘mademoiselle’’ officials use for unmarried female players.

On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal narrowly avoided dropping a set at the French Open for the first time in three years and finished off a rain-interrupted 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11-9) victory over 129th-ranked Simone Bolelli of Italy.

Beginning his bid for a record-extending 11th championship at Roland Garros, Nadal needed to erase four set points to close things out Tuesday.

Bolelli produced a drop volley winner for a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker, but Nadal discarded that trio of set points with an ace, a backhand volley winner, and an inside-out forehand winner. Bolelli then had another set point at 7-6, but put a forehand return in the net.

From there, it took Nadal three match points to finish, reaching the second round when Bolelli missed a forehand.

Nadal grabbed the opening two sets Monday, but trailed, 3-0, in the third when play was suspended because of rain.

Nadal hasn’t ceded a set at the French Open since 2015, when he was beaten in the quarterfinals by Novak Djokovic. In 2016, Nadal withdrew with an injured left wrist after a pair of easy victories, then claimed every set he played last year en route to the trophy.

Third-seeded Marin Cilic kicked off his tournament with a straight-set win over James Duckworth of Australia. Cilic, a former US Open champion who has reached two of the past three Grand Slam finals, was not bothered by the rain that stopped play for about an hour and won, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).

Duckworth, who missed the French Open last year because of foot surgery, has never won a match at the clay-court event in four appearances.

Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov’s first Grand Slam match as a seeded player went about as smoothly as could be.

The 19-year-old lefty, who is seeded 24th, needed just two hours to get past 59th-ranked John Millman of Australia, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.

Shapovalov compiled a 32-9 edge in winners and converted 6 of 12 break points.

A year after losing in the opening round of qualifying in Paris, he is the second-youngest man in the French Open field.

Next for Shapovalov is a matchup against 70th-ranked Maximilian Marterer of Germany, a 6-1, 6-3, 7-5 winner against Ryan Harrison of the U.S.

In the women’s draw, two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza is back to winning ways after beating Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova, another former Roland Garros champion. Muguruza, who claimed the title in Paris two years ago, advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (7-0), 6-2 win.

After beating Serena Williams in the 2016 final, Muguruza’s title defense was ended in the fourth round last year.

Now ranked 43rd, the 32-year-old Kuznetsova was making her 16th consecutive appearance in the main draw in Paris, where she won the title in 2009.