Serena back on clay, Sharapova wins thriller

A first grand slam appearance since January 2017 for Serena Williams ended in victory over Kristyna Pliskova in the French Open first round.

American Serena Williams.   -  Getty Images

Serena Williams made her long-awaited return to clay-court tennis on Tuesday with a 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 victory over Kristyna Pliskova at the French Open.

The opening-round clash at Roland Garros was Williams' first on the surface since 2016 and her first outing at a grand slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open, having taken time away to have a baby.

And despite appearing rusty early on, the 23-time major champion did enough to ensure safe passage to a second-round meeting with Australia's Ashleigh Barty.

The progress of Maria Sharapova was not so straightforward, as she needed three sets to get past Richel Hogenkamp, while Garbine Muguruza was a straight-sets victor over Svetlana Kuznetsova.



"I think the match went well," Williams said of her performance. "It wasn't an easy match because the beginning was so many aces and I knew that after her first game of serving, I'd have to serve really well today.

"I need to really be on my game serving-wise, because there's not going to be a tremendous amount of rallies.

"So, yeah, I was struggling to get in a little rhythm because it was so much acing, so many aces going on.

"But overall, I was definitely happy with my performance and how I played today. Two years has been a really long time but I trained really hard on the clay and I feel good."


Two-time champion Sharapova had to be on her guard to overcome Dutch qualifier Hogenkamp 6-1 4-6 6-3.

The Russian led 6-1 4-3 before conceding the next six games to put her involvement beyond the first round in doubt.

But Sharapova rallied late on to win the last six games in succession to squeeze through.

"I think I can be proud of that effort," Sharapova said. "But I definitely stepped back a little bit and wasn't as aggressive as I was through that 6-1 3-1, but overall won the last point."


For the second season in a row, Muguruza overcame a former champion to reach the second round, as she got the better of Kuznetsova 7-6 (7-0) 6-2.

Victory for the third seed handed Kuznetsova her earliest defeat at Roland Garros for 15 years.

"I feel very encouraged by this kind of a match... this is going to reinforce me," said Muguruza, champion in 2016.

"It was a very good first round, and the fact that I won, although it was a very difficult match, it was a match against an expert."


Top seed Simona Halep had been due to close out the day's play but will have to wait until Wednesday for her match against Alison Riske after rain affected the schedule.

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