Serena Williams considered daily whether to skip the French Open. She could have been sent packing after the first round on Monday.
Williams rallied to avoid the second first-round loss in her 71-Grand Slam career, topping Russian Vitalia Diatchenko 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.
“I didn’t play great in this match, but it is what it is,” Williams said on Tennis Channel after notching her 800th tour-level main-draw match victory. “I’m happy I got through it. I knew that it could go worse.”
It could have been the first time Serena and older sister Venus Williams lost in the first round of the same major. Williams, eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, moved on to face Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara or Slovenian Dalila Jakupović in the second round.
Williams withdrew from her previous three tournaments with health problems, citing a left knee injury at the last two.
“It crossed my mind every day,” whether to pass on Paris, Williams said, “but I’m here. And to do the best that I can do.”
She played well save that first set, being broken twice in a row with 14 unforced errors. Diatchenko won eight of nine points on Williams’ serve at one stretch.
“I’m a little upset,” Williams said. “I’ve been practicing extremely well, and I didn’t play like that at all. I think I’m going to take a deep breath. I was also a little nervous today. Usually I’m never nervous. That also means that I absolutely love what I do and means I want to be out here, so it’s a good sign.”
Williams, 37, is taking her fifth crack at tying Margaret Court‘s record 24 majors. She made her Grand Slam return from childbirth at the French Open last year. In career match wins, Williams trails only Martina Navratilova (1,442), Chris Evert (1,309), Steffi Graf (902) and Virginia Wade (839).
Earlier Monday, Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record 12th championship in Paris and Novak Djokovic got started on his quest for a fourth consecutive major trophy with easy wins.
Nadal was a bit shaky in the very first game against 184th-ranked German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, facing four break points, but he saved them all — and didn’t face another the rest of the way for a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Nadal’s feared forehand was not at its dangerous best, accounting for more unforced errors (11) than winners (nine).
“I had my match plan and, yeah, some of the things, they didn’t work out well,” said Hanfmann, who played college tennis at USC. “But, I mean, that’s why he’s as good as he is.”
Djokovic also needed under two hours to reach the second round, running his Grand Slam winning streak to 22 matches by getting past 44th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Upsets included former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who went out 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 to 68th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.
Frances Tiafoe, the only seeded U.S. man at No. 32 and a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in January, threw up a couple of times and his game came apart late in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 loss to Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.
“Obviously very depleted and had nothing really in me,” said Tiafoe, now 0-4 at Roland Garros.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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