Serena Williams’ Australian Open debut inspired by Florence Griffith Joyner

Flojo, Serena Williams
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Serena Williams channeled Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner for her Australian Open first-round match on Monday.

Williams, in a pink, red and black one-legged catsuit that drew memories of the 1988 gold medalist, fittingly sprinted past 49th-ranked German Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 in 56 minutes in Melbourne.

“I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up,” the 39-year-old Williams said. “Well, watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing. This year we thought of what can we do to keep elevating the Serena Williams on the court. The Nike team actually thought of this design of inspiration from Flo-Jo. I was like, Oh, my God, this is so brilliant.

“She had such amazing style and iconic-ness.”

Griffith Joyner, in a 1988 NBC Olympics profile, called her outfit “the one-legger.”

“The one-legger was by accident,” she said. “It was a two-legger, originally. I was in the mirror, and I cut off one leg, and I liked how it looked. So I took a pair of my briefs, and I put it over the top of the one leg. And I said, well that looks good, I’ll try that.”

Williams, seeded 10th, improved to 76-1 in the first round of majors. She next plays 99th-ranked Serbian Nina Stojanović.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Williams said before the tournament that she probably would not have played if it was held on its usual dates, three weeks earlier, citing an Achilles injury that forced her to withdraw from the French Open on Sept. 30. She’s also nursing a right shoulder injury.

“Wasn’t sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it’s feeling good, I’m feeling good,” she said. “This was a good start, definitely vintage ‘Rena.”

Williams is playing her 11th Grand Slam since returning from childbirth, again seeking her first major title as a mom and to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 major singles titles. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019.

Earlier Monday, sister Venus became the first woman in her 40s to win a Grand Slam main draw singles match since Kimiko Date in 2013.

Venus, who last year failed to win a Grand Slam match for the first time in her 24-year career, beat Belgian Kristen Flipkens 7-5, 6-2. She gets Italian veteran Sara Errani in round two.

“She’s such an inspiration because she never gets frustrated about her situation, health-wise,” Serena said of Venus, who was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, in 2011. “She’s always looking on the bright side.”

Naomi Osaka, the 2019 Australian Open winner and favorite, routed 39th-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2 in 68 minutes. Osaka, on a 15-match win streak, next gets Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, formerly world No. 4 now ranked 43rd.

In her first match in 15 months, 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada outlasted Romanian Mihaela Buzărnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

The highest women’s seed to fall Monday was No. 23 Angelique Kerber of Germany, the 2016 Australian Open champion. Croatian-born American Bernarda Pera knocked her out 6-0, 6-4.

Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino earned her first Grand Slam match win since 2011. Marino, 30, retired in 2013, dealing with burnout, depression and cyberbullying, and came back in 2018.

On the men’s side, No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Dominic Thiem rolled in straight sets.

In Monday’s highlight match, No. 11 Denis Shapovalov of Canada edged promising 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, finishing at 12:49 a.m. local time.

On Tuesday, Rafael NadalAsh Barty, Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff play their first-round matches.

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