Three-time French Open champion Serena Williams survived a slow start to reach the second round in Paris on Monday evening, with the American rallying from a set down to beat Russia’s Vitalia Diatchenko on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Diatchenko has recent history of beating big names in the opening round of majors, knocking compatriot Maria Sharapova out of Wimbledon last season, and it seemed that she could cause an even bigger upset here to begin with, breaking twice to seal the opening set, and looking vastly different to the player who once lost eight games to Williams before retiring in the first round of the US Open.
However, as she has done so often throughout her career, Williams rallied in fine style, dominating the second and deciding sets, with a run of nine straight games at the end securing a 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory in an hour and 30 minutes to progress.
Serena survives slow start to down Diatchenko
The only time Williams ever lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament was in Paris seven years ago, and as she struggled early on it seemed possible she could fall to another early loss, though she unsurprisingly improved throughout to secure victory.
There were warning signs early on for Williams, with Diatchenko forcing two break points in the opening game, though the American was able to hold, and looked solid in her next service game. However, far too many errors were flying off her racket, and the Russian took advantage, breaking for a 3-2 lead, and then breaking again two games to lead for 5-2. Diatchenko was under pressure serving for the set, with the tenth seed holding a break point, though the Russian saved it and converted a second set point to take the opener.
After a poor first set, Williams improved almost immediately in the second set, looking more solid on serve and finally breaking through Diatchenko’s resistance, with two double faults helping the tenth seed break. The American consolidated for a 3-0 lead and though the Russian avoided the bagel, she could not hold for a second time, losing serve from 40-15 up, and Williams calmly served out the second set to take it to a decider.
Diatchenko likely needed a strong start to the decider to have any chance of victory, though was broken in a tight game, with Williams converting a fourth break point. The American was making fewer errors by now and was more assured on serve, and another break ensured it was a run of six games in a row as she eased to a 3-0 lead. Williams was in full flight by now, and after breaking the Russian once again, comfortably served out the match.
It was certainly not the perfect match from Williams, who is looking to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, though the tennis she played in the second and third sets, as well as how quickly the match went by, should leave her in good stead for a deep run at Roland Garros. Qualifier Kurumi Nara or Dalila Jakupovic will be her second round opponent.