MELBOURNE • Serena Williams dressed for work yesterday as if she were intent on reminding people who she was before she became a wife and mother.
The last time she played at the Rod Laver Arena in 2017, she dispatched her older sister Venus in the Australian Open final while pregnant. She did not defend her title last year because she was not ready after a harrowing medical ordeal during and after childbirth.
In her return, 717 days later, she warmed up for her first-round match against Tatjana Maria in a short black trench coat, which she peeled off to reveal a muscle-hugging, bright green shorts-and-tank-top outfit when returning to her chair.
It was a bold fashion statement for the 37-year-old, resurrecting the "Serena-tard," as she called it, which she first made famous in 2002 when she had one of her most sublime seasons, with victories in the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open, and a 56-5 match record.
Williams' 6-0, 6-2 victory against Maria of Germany, her friend and fellow mother, felt like it took place in 2002.
She breezed through the opening set in 18 minutes and won 54 points to Maria's 24. Williams, the 16th seed, produced 22 winners.
"I knew that I've been working really, really hard in the off-season to be incredibly fit," said the American, who can equal Margaret Court's record 24 Grand Slam singles titles with a victory here.
"I have been going for the record for what seems like forever now, so it doesn't feel any different.
"I don't want to give myself a ranking any more. I think it gives me too much negative expectations. I just know that I'm going in the right direction."
Made of jade-green lycra with a black-and-white waistband, the skin-tight outfit looks like a pair of disco-era hot pants attached to a builder's singlet.
Williams matched it with fishnet stockings, which she explained were a health measure designed to avoid deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).
She almost died in 2017 when blood clots formed in her lungs after she gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia.
She said she still lived in fear of the condition returning and wore compression tights to help stop clots forming.
"(I'm) definitely still concerned. I have had some issues and they're not done. So it's just something I just have to do for pretty much the rest of my career," she said. "But I'm always at the doctor. With DVTs, it's very scary. Especially for me it's incredibly frightening."
She will next play Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who beat Peng Shuai of China 6-2, 6-1.
Williams also spoke about her dual focus on tennis and 16-month-old Alexis.
"Spending a lot of time with my daughter is a priority for me," she said. "As a working mum, I feel guilty. I understand that's normal. These are years I'll never get back."
Williams will not get back the time she took off from tennis to have her child. But the best she can do is win the Australian Open title she could not defend last year, and to that end, she got off to a fast start.
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