Serena Williams starts bid for 24th grand slam with straight sets win

Venus Williams suffers the first US Open first-round defeat of her career

Serena Williams in action against Kristie Ahn during the first round of the US Open in New York. Photograph: AP

Serena Williams in action against Kristie Ahn during the first round of the US Open in New York. Photograph: AP

 

Serena Williams vowed to relish every moment of her quest for an elusive and record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title after edging her way into the second round of the US Open.

The 38-year-old, who needs one more trophy to match Margaret Court’s all-time record, was forced to hit back from an early break down in both sets before seeing off American compatriot Kristie Ahn.

In doing so, six-time champion Williams won her 102nd career match at the US Open, surpassing the previous record she shared with Chris Evert.

Even with six of the world’s top 10 players absent, Williams’ 7-5 6-3 win in just under one-and-a-half hours did not exactly inspire confidence that Flushing Meadows will provide that historic platform in little under two weeks’ time.

But Williams joked: “It’s been since the 1990s that I won a match in straight sets so that feels really good. I just told myself, ‘be Serena and close it out’, and I know I can do that.

“I love my job at the end of the day and I’ve always said that you can’t do it forever. One of these days it is going to end and I just love being out here.”

Williams has endured a below-par run of form either side of the lockdown and came into the tournament on the back of a heavy loss to Maria Sakkari in the Western and Southern Open at the same venue last week.

Broken on a double-fault in her opening game by the aggressive Ahn, Williams was plainly taking time to play her way into the match and despite pulling the break back swiftly, it took until the 12th game of the set for Williams to take control.

Undaunted, Ahn broke again at the start of the second and threatened a double-break before Williams rallied, a run of four straight games setting her up for what ultimately proved to be a relatively straight-forward — and rare — straight sets win.

But Williams’ older sister Venus suffered the first US Open first-round defeat of her career as she fell 6-3 7-5 to Czech 20th seed Karolina Muchova.

Second seed Sofia Kenin, the Australian Open champion, beat Germany’s Yanina Wickmayer 6-2 6-2, while fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka beat Oceane Dodin of France, also in straight sets.

Two-time grand slam winner Garbine Mugaruza of Spain was 4-0 down in the opening set before beating Japan’s Nao Hibino 6-4 6-4.

Afterwards, the 2017 Wimbledon champion revealed her shock at the news that countrywoman Carla Suarez Navarro, the former world number six, has been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

She said: “When we spoke a few days ago when she gave me the news, I was shocked, because I was expecting to see her at this tournament. You know, she’s such a nice woman, so sweet, so kind, so humble.

“When these things happen to these good people, I feel so sad about it. So I know she was watching my match, and we talked a little bit.

“I will dedicate this win to her, because I want her to feel that we are behind her, that I am behind her, and I will go and see her at some point when it is fine.”

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