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WARRIOR PRINCESS: SERENA WILLIAMS TRIUMPHS IN GRAND SLAM RETURN

Saqib Ali

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Jane Voigt

In her first French Open match in two years and her first major tournament since giving birth to daughter Olympia in September, Serena Williams triumphed over Kristyna Pliskova 7-6(4), 6-4.

“Today wasn’t easy,” Williams told Tennis Channel on court, immediately following her win. “Such a pleasure to be able to play.”

Williams’ gratitude and humility were short-lived because the conversation quickly turned to her form-fitting catsuit. Her entry onto Court Philippe Chatrier set an immediate tone for fans — those on hand and watching around the world.  

“All the moms out there that had a tough pregnancy and have come back and try to be fierce, in [the] middle of everything,” she said.  “That’s what this represents. You can’t beat a catsuit, right?”

Williams first wore a catsuit in 2002 at the U.S. Open: a shiny brown Puma design with shorts. Tuesday, she rocked an all-black full-legging style, broken only by a flashy red waistband.

“[It’s] a new version, 2.0,” she told the press later, with a smile. “It’s cool. I call it my Wakanda-inspired catsuit. It’s really fun, although we designed it way before the movie, but still, it kind of reminds me of that.”

“The catsuit is back and it’s having my queen looking like a superhero,” former NBA basketball player Jason Collins declared in a tweet.

The fearsome outfit probably didn’t have much to do with Williams’s match play, but never underestimate what clothes can do for an athlete of her stature.

Her win over the No. 70-ranked Pliskova wasn’t a masterpiece, though it didn’t have to be. The point was to win and learn from the experience of winning after a long absence from match play. Williams had moments of brilliance, hitting winners as if she had never taken a break from competition. She struck 13 aces, which seemed to please the 23-time Grand Slam champion. Pliskova, though, hit 15 aces, the most of any player who had faced Serena.

“The beginning was so many aces,” Serena told the press. “I knew that after her first game of serving I said, okay, I have to serve really well today. I need to really be on my game serving-wise because there aren’t going to be a tremendous amount of rallies.”

Serena, who won the Suzanne Lenglen Trophy three times (2002, 2013, 2015), was one of three Roland Garros champions who secured second-round berths Tuesday.

Maria Sharapova, who is seeded No. 27, struggled to oust qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Down 0-3 in the third, Sharapova ignited her gritty, determined self to win. The Russian won Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, eliminated Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion, in straight sets: 7-6(0), 6-2.

Sharapova and Williams are on course to clash in the fourth round. Sharapova last defeated Williams at the WTA Tour Championships in 2004, having lost the next 18 matches. Given that, the result of their potential meeting could be a foregone conclusion. However both have entered a new era in their careers — Serena as a mother, Sharapova still regrouping from a double whammy: a 15-month suspension for doping and injuries she incurred in her return last year.

The biggest difference for Serena is baby Olympia and being a mom. Right after winning, Serena told Tennis Channel about her new role, saying, “I think I’m going to tell her it was fun and [I] thought about her and got a little worried about her, but it was great.” Later, she told the press, “The biggest difference is definitely I’m semi on time today, two minutes late because I want to get home and see Olympia. I’ve been here all day. Usually we hang out all the time.”

Maria, on the other hand, was all business about her 14th appearance in Paris and first match there since 2015. Her mind was clearly and completely on winning.

“I think I can be proud of that effort,” Sharapova said, as reported by the WTA. “No matter the score, I still know that I produced quite solid tennis in order to get myself in a winning position. I felt there is no reason that I couldn’t get that back. I finished out six straight games. I think if there is any way to turn that match around, it’s that way.”

Between Serena’s return and Sharapova’s turnaround, there were many compelling stories to turn to in Paris on Tuesday.

Image source – Jimmie 48

 

 

 

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