AUCKLAND, New Zealand - No.1 seed Serena Williams was dominant in her opening match at the ASB Classic in Auckland, needing just over an hour to subdue the tricky Camila Giorgi 6-3, 6-2 and secure a victory in her first match since last year’s US Open.
Stepping into the new decade with a solid doubles win with close friend Caroline Wozniacki the day before, Serena carried the positive momentum into her second-round clash with Giorgi, extending her head-to-head dominance against the Italian to 5-0.
“I thought it was solid, technically my second match of the year,” Serena told press afterward. “Spent a long time off from tournament play, match play, so solid is pretty good. It’s a great start to build on.”
She added, “I definitely think the doubles helped me a lot, especially with my serve. I served pretty decent, considering the conditions. So it’s really been helpful.”
Serena is playing in the ASB Classic for just the second time as she seeks to build up her match fitness ahead of her Australian Open challenge - a victory in the final of Melbourne would see Serena tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles.
In Auckland, Serena faced an early test against the power-hitter Giorgi, who replaced Svetlana Kuznetsova in the draw after the Russian was forced to withdraw due to a viral illness.
Serena got going early with a confident hold to love to start, and batted away her opponent’s break opportunity in her next service game. Both Serena and Giorgi had chances to take the lead, but strong hitting kept them toe to toe. It was the World No.10 who drew first blood as the set wound to a close, breaking at 5-3 and surging ahead to claim the opening set.
“She got a lot of balls back [early in the match], but that’s okay. I was happy that I’m able to beat people that can get balls back,” Serena said.
With the first set under her belt, Serena seemed to relax even more in the second, swinging freely to claim an early break at 2-1. She kept the big-hitting Giorgi contained with her own powerful returns and sharp movement around the court. Serena secured a second break at 5-3, and fought off two break-back points a game later to close out the match.
Serena weathered eight winners from the Italian, but produced 11 of her own, bossing the rallies and keeping Giorgi under pressure. Her big serve kept her in control, striking eight aces and saving all three break points she faced, completing the 6-3, 6-2 win in 68 minutes.
“It’s definitely not easy [to get the rhythm back after a break],” Serena said. “It’s always hard to play a first round match early in the season.”
“I’m just taking it a day at a time,” she added. “I’m just happy to be competing, and I really want to enjoy this year and this tournament, and have fun.”
The victory books Serena a spot in the second round, where she awaits the winner between Americans Christina McHale or qualifier Ann Li. Should she advance, a possible quarterfinal clash against 15-year-old rising star Coco Gauff looms.