NEW YORK • Serena Williams was not about to let Maria Sharapova make a match of their US Open tie.
So, facing a break point early in the second set, Williams conjured up a backhand passing shot so good, so powerful, so precise, that Sharapova had no chance to reach it. She watched the ball land, and then raised a clenched left fist towards the night sky.
The American stretched her winning streak against Russian star Sharapova to 19 matches with a nearly flawless performance that produced a 6-1, 6-1 first-round victory on Monday.
Asked whether she could even imagine losing that many matches in a row across 15 years against one opponent, the 37-year-old paused for a moment, then replied: "Gosh, I never thought about it like that."
After losing two of their first three clashes, Williams now leads their head-to-head series 20-2.
"Every time I come up against her, I just bring out some of my best tennis," Williams added of the match, which lasted 59 minutes.
Williams won twice as many points, 56-28, and broke Sharapova five times. She saved all five break points she faced and lashed serves at up to 115mph (185kmh).
"I always said her ball somehow lands in my strike zone," Williams said. "It's just perfect for me."
Few players would have stood a chance against Williams the way she was hitting balls deep and true - and certainly not a diminished Sharapova, ranked 87th after missing much of this season with a right shoulder that needed surgery.
"Bottom line is I believe in my ability," Sharapova, 32, said. "You can write me off. There are many people that can write me off, especially after going down 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of the US Open. As long as it's not the person that's inside of you, you'll be okay."
This was a showdown fit for a final, at least in theory: These two met in a title match at each of the other three Grand Slam tournaments but never had faced each other in New York.
Few athletes in any sport have been as popular in recent decades.
Williams owns 23 Major singles title, Sharapova five. Both have a career Grand Slam and both have been ranked No. 1. But when the lights came on during their entrance, Williams proved far more ready for prime time.
Movement has often been a problem for Williams this year as she has struggled to compete because of injuries. Knee problems severely curtailed her play in the first five months of the season, and after reaching the final of the Rogers Cup earlier this month, she retired in the first set against Bianca Andreescu because of back pain.
She arrived at Flushing Meadows, where she has won six titles, accompanied by questions about her back. But that did not seem to be an issue against Sharapova.
"The body's good. I feel good," Williams said. "My back's a lot better. So I'm excited."
Angelique Kerber, a winner here in 2016, suffered a first-round 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 exit against Kristina Mladenovic. French Open champion Ashleigh Barty shook off a poor first set to defeat Zarina Diyas 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Third seed Karolina Pliskova also had to endure a tough battle before prevailing 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-3) against 138th-ranked fellow Czech Tereza Martincova.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE