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THIS was quite a return for Serena Williams. Almost as if she never left.
In her first match at the Australian Open since winning the 2017 title while pregnant — and her first official match anywhere since a loss in the chaotic US Open final last September — Williams looked to be at her dominant best, overpowering Tatjana Maria 6-0, 6-2 in the first round yesterday.
“I kind of like to jump in the deep end and swim,” Williams said in an on-court interview after the 49-minute workout, “and see what happens.”
She hadn’t dipped her toe in grand slam waters since New York, where everything devolved after Williams was warned for getting coaching, then docked a point for breaking a racquet and eventually docked a game for calling the chair umpire “a thief” during the final.
When that match was mentioned by a reporter during Williams’s news conference yesterday, as part of a question about whether coaching should be allowed during matches at majors, she replied: “I, like, literally have no comment.”
Truth be told, the match against Maria was not much of a test for Williams, given that the 74th-ranked German entered with an 11-15 record in first-round matches at grand slam tournaments, only once has made it as far as the third round at any major and owns a total of one career WTA title after a dozen years on the tour.
Williams, meanwhile, is pursuing an eighth title in Melbourne and 24th Slam singles trophy overall, which would equal Margaret Court — whose career spanned the amateur and professional eras — for the most in tennis history.
“I have been going for the record [for] what seems like forever now,” the 37-year-old Williams said, “so it doesn’t feel any different.”
How lopsided was this?
Williams needed all of 18 minutes to wrap up the first set, ceding just five of 29 points along the way.
The US star, a former No 1 who is seeded 16th on account of playing only 24 matches in 2018, never faced a single break point and compiled a 22-7 edge in winners.
“Maybe,” Maria said afterward, “I was a little bit overwhelmed.”
Just a little bit.
The two players have homes near each other in a gated community in Florida — “We do sometimes barbecue together,” Maria said — and their daughters — Williams’s is 16 months old; Maria’s is five years old — share play dates.
“I think the last time I was here, I was actually pregnant and playing at the same time, which is insane,” Williams said. “It was kind of weird walking back on — by myself, this time.”
Other seeded winners yesterday included No 7 Karolina Pliskova, No 12 Elise Mertens, No 13 Anastasija Sevastova, No 17 Madison Keys and No 18 Garbine Muguruza among the women.
Williams’s older sister, Venus, is unseeded at a major for the first time in five years and she was a game from a first-round exit before coming all the way back to eliminate 25th-seeded Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-7 (3) 7-6 (3) 6-2.
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