Serena Williams found her power game after a sluggish start as she overcame qualifier Camila Giorgi to open her 2020 season with a straight-sets victory at the Auckland Classic on Tuesday.
With an eye on the Australian Open later in the month, the 38-year-old worked her way into a blistering performance that proved too much for the Italian.
“I feel really good, it was fun to be out there,” Williams said after sealing her 6-3, 6-2 victory with her eighth ace against the 99th-ranked Giorgi. “It’s really good that I still have some power left in my arms and legs.”
Williams, originally drawn to play two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova before the Russian pulled out due to a virus, said her preparation had been helped by playing doubles with Caroline Wozniacki the previous evening which allowed her to adapt to the blustery Auckland weather.
“I knew it was going to be really tough but I think the doubles really helped. I got to come out here and play a little bit in these conditions and get used to them.”
The duo beat Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya, 6-2, 6-4 on Monday in the first round of the doubles.
Former Australian Open winner Wozniacki, who is set to retire after this year’s opening Grand Slam, also started with a win in singles. The fifth seed earned a 6-1, 6-0 first-round win over local wildcard Paige Mary Hourigan in just 53 minutes.
In Williams’ first match since losing the US Open final in September, she took time to settle and was forced to save an early break point with the first six games all going with serve.
But at 3-3 in the first set, Williams found her range and from there on the result was never in doubt.
Auckland is an important tournament for the veteran as she prepares for the Australian Open later in the month with her eyes firmly on a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
While Williams is the undisputed face of American tennis, she has been joined in Auckland by the new wave of US tennis stars, headed by the tournament third seed Amanda Anisimova and teen sensation Coco Gauff.
The 18-year-old, who captured world attention reaching the semi-finals of the French Open last year where she lost in three sets to eventual champion Asleigh Barty, needed 78 minutes to dispose of Kateryna Kozlova of the Ukraine 6-3, 6-4.
Unlike Williams, Anisimova said she felt quite at home in the Auckland wind. “I’ve been training in Miami and it’s really the same,” she said.
Second seed Petra Martic from Croatia had trouble at the start against 21-year-old American Usue Arconada and dropped the first set before prevailing 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Germany’s defending champion Julia Goerges came from 2-5 down in the second set to beat Greet Minnen of Belgium 6-1, 7-6 (7/4)
On the first day, 15-year-old Coco Gauff kicked off her 2020 season with a strong win over Viktoria Kuzmova. The teen, making her debut in Auckland, won 6-3, 6-1 win.
Petra Martic (CRO x2) bt Usue Maitane Arconada (USA) 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
Alize Cornet (FRA) bt Ysaline Bonaventure (BEL) 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
Amanda Anisimova (USA x3) bt Kateryna Kozlova (UKR) 6-3, 6-4
Serena Williams (USA x1) bt Camila Giorgi (ITA) 6-3, 6-2
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x5) bt Paige Hourigan (NZL) 6-1, 6-0
Julia Goerges (GER x4) bt Greet Minnen (BEL) 6-1, 7-6 (7/4)
Laura Siegemund (USA) bt Catherine McNally (USA) 6-2, 6-2
Lauren Davis (USA) bt Varvara Lepchenko (USA) 7-6 (9/7), 6-2
Christina McHale (USA) bt Ann Li (USA) 7-5, 6-2
With AFP Inputs