LONDON, Great Britain - In her first match since the French Open, former World No.1 Serena Williams took down Italian qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone in a hard-fought straight sets to advance to the second round of Wimbledon.
It’s a confident message to the rest of the field after a left knee injury derailed Serena’s clay season earlier this year, keeping her out of Rome and sending her crashing out of Roland Garros in the third round.
But back at the All-England Club, where she’s lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish seven times in her career, a healthy-looking Serena put on a confident showing on Centre Court to claim the victory, 6-2, 7-5.
“I think right now I have to have every match count like 10 matches, because I haven't had a ton of matches this year,” Serena told press after the win.
“I learned a lot from that match, just going to keep the momentum going.”
While Serena was contesting her 104th match at Wimbledon - owning a stellar 92-11 record - her opponent Gatto-Monticone was making her main draw debut at the age of 31. Already one of the oldest qualifiers at last month’s French Open, Gatto-Monticone backed it up at SW19, fighting through three rounds of qualifying to book her encounter with the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Serena took full control of the match from the start, hitting winners off both wings and powering through the Italian’s defenses to reel off the first five games for a 5-0 lead.
Gatto-Monticone finally got on the scoreboard firing after two aces to make it 5-1, and then took advantage of a Serena letdown to claim her first break of the match - much to the delight of the fans on Centre Court. But Serena replied in kind straightway, claiming the break back and taking the opening set 6-2.
With both players fully dialed in, the second set was a much more competitive affair as Gatto-Monticone’s confidence level rose, finally finding the answers against Serena’s game.
Serena kept the Italian under pressure with her heavy pace, charging to a pair of break points at 3-2, but Gatto-Monticone escaped to keep them level. She couldn’t dodge Serena’s next charge, and the American broke at 5-3 to serve for the match.
With Serena three points from victory, Gatto-Monticone found another level to extend her stay in the match. The next two games unfolded in tense fashion, neither player giving an inch, but it was Gatto-Monticone who blinked first - and Serena took a high-octane match point at the net to claim the victory.
“I think this is the 13th match for the whole year for me,” Serena said, explaining her second-set letdown. “I felt really good to get there. It's also Wimbledon. It's Centre Court. It's like such a big moment for me.
“She started playing really well. She started getting a ton of momentum. To try to keep, you know, the edge with myself was really important. She had already broken me when I served for the match so I wanted to make sure I was able to stay in the match.
“I think that was just something that I was really excited about. It's Serena, I always get excited.”
The win today keeps Serena’s impressive first-round streak alive - she’s never lost a match at this stage of Wimbledon in her career - and she now awaits the winner between qualifier Kaja Juvan or Czech lefty Kristyna Pliskova.