Tennis: Serena makes winning return after slow start in Auckland

Tennis player Serena Williams speaks to the media as she arrives to present the Serena Williams Signature Statement Fall Collection at New York Fashion Week in Manhattan, New York on Sept 12, 2016.
Tennis player Serena Williams speaks to the media as she arrives to present the Serena Williams Signature Statement Fall Collection at New York Fashion Week in Manhattan, New York on Sept 12, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

AUCKLAND • Serena Williams overcame rust and a troublesome wind to launch her comeback from a four-month lay-off with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 69th-ranked Pauline Parmentier at tennis' Auckland Classic yesterday.

In her first outing since she was shocked by Karolina Pliskova in the US Open semi-finals in September, the women's world No. 2 made a sluggish start to a season in which she is seeking a record 23rd Grand Slam singles title.

In her first-round match, delayed from Monday when rain washed out play, she struggled initially as France's Parmentier broke the her first service game and then held to love.

The 35-year-old, using Auckland to warm up for the Australian Open, had only a 48 per cent success rate with her first serve and double-faulted four times as she had trouble adjusting to the swirling wind.

But the American - who shares the Open-era record of 22 Grand Slams with Steffi Graf, and is two behind Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 - grew stronger and finished with her eighth ace.

DUSTING OFF THE RUST

I definitely felt that rust, but mentally I knew how to get it back and get in there.

'' SERENA WILLIAMS, the world No. 2, on finding her way to victory following her return from a four-month lay-off..

"I definitely felt that rust, but mentally I knew how to get it back and get in there," Williams, who last week announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, said, adding it "wasn't fun" playing in the wind.

"Unfortunately I have the highest of goals and obviously that involves winning Grand Slams and that's all.

"It's basically all I want to do, but you have to win tournaments like this, or do well in them, to win Grand Slams, so these events really count."

The third and fourth seeds, Caroline Wozniacki and Barbora Strycova, both cruised through their opening matches.

Wozniacki beat American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-2 and Strycova was a 6-4, 6-3 winner over fellow Czech Barbora Stefkova.

However, the rain again affected the evening's play with second seed Venus Williams also making a slow start as she was 2-2 in the first set against New Zealander Jade Lewis when play was stopped for the day.

Fifth seed Kiki Bertens had reason to bemoan the unseasonal weather. She was 5-3 up against American Lauren Davis when play was abandoned on Monday, but could not find the same rhythm when play resumed and she lost 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Serena makes winning return after slow start in Auckland'. Print Edition | Subscribe