NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.3 seed Serena Williams began her quest for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Flushing Meadows native Kristie Ahn in the first round of the US Open.
Serena, a six-time champion, had to fight through a slow start but quickly found her rhythm to defeat Ahn in an hour and 21 minutes. She blasted 28 winners and 13 aces in total, outpacing her 24 unforced errors and broke her countrywoman’s serve four times en route to victory.
“It was just getting the rhythm in the early part of the match,” Serena said in her post-match press conference. “First round is always tough for me. I think Kristie, she really strikes the ball really hard. She mixes up a lot. She plays a lot of the different shots. You don't really know what to expect.
“I really thought her game was really, really, really good to the point where I had to make sure. I was down a break at one point, so I was really fighting for everything.”
Serena came into the match after posting a round of 16 finish last week at the Western & Southern Open, backing up a run to the Lexington quarterfinals in her first tournament of the tour’s resumption. But the road to get there hasn’t been easy for the former World No.1, who has been taken the distance in all of her matches since the second round of the Australian Open.
She broke that streak in style with a strong, straight sets finish against Ahn, who was facing a Top 10 player for the second time in her career. The win improves Serena’s already-impressive US Open win-loss record to 102-13, breaking her tie with WTA Legend Chris Evert for the most singles victories in tournament history.
“In a weird way I feel like every time I come here I'm being told I broke another record,” Serena said of the achievement. “I don't think I appreciate it enough, which is unfortunate. But I'm in the middle of a Grand Slam, so it's not the time to be focused for me on records when I'm thinking about winning a tournament.”
Serena needed a few games to settle into the match, as a nervy start gave Ahn an early break to take a 2-0 lead. Ahn attacked the Serena serve throughout the first set to keep pace with her opponent, but Serena quickly punished Ahn’s aggressive stance, firing the first of her eight aces in the opening set.
As the former World No.1 settled into the match, Serena got them back on serve a few games later to make it 2-2. Ahn continued to keep her under pressure, staying within touching distance to create a break point at 4-4. But Serena held firm, and broke to avoid going into a tiebreak and take the opening set, 7-5.
Just as she did in the first set, Ahn started the second with another break in the first game, fighting her way to a 2-0 lead. But once again, Serena raised her level as she reeled off the next five games in a row, 5-2, before rolling to victory 7-5, 6-3.
“I felt like I wanted to be focused from the first point to the last,” Serena said after the match. "I feel like I have been focused, but I've been losing matches on literally one point that could swing a match a different way. I've been playing a ton of tight matches.
“I felt like, all right, I just wanted to be Serena focused from the first point to the last point no matter what happens.”
Serena moves into the second round, where she’ll take on Margarita Gasparyan in her next match. The 26-year-old Russian defeated Monica Puig 6-3, 6-7(0), 6-0 earlier in the day to advance.