23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams rallied from a slow start to defeat tricky Russian Vitalia Diatchenko and advance into the second round of Roland Garros.
David Kane
May 27, 2019

PARIS, France - No.10 seed Serena Williams began her quest for a fourth French Open title on Monday afternoon, rallying from a set down to defeat Vitalia Diatchenko, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.

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Struggling with a knee injury for much of the season, the 23-time Grand Slam champion was playing just her second match on red clay after withdrawing from the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, but nonetheless survived after exactly 90 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

"Physically I felt pretty good," she explained after the match. "Yeah, I've had a lot of injuries. I'm usually not an injured player, but I sprained my ankle in Australia and everything went downhill from there.

"I think I'm finally on the mend, but yeah, it's been a really interesting year for me thus far."

Williams and Diatchenko's only previous match also came in the opening round of a major tournament, when the Russian was forced to retire eight games into their 2015 US Open encounter, when the American was aiming for the as-yet elusive Calendar Year Grand Slam.

A decade removed from her Grand Slam main draw debut - which came at this very tournament in 2009 - Diatchenko scored one of the biggest wins of her career at last year's Wimbledon Championships, where she upset 2004 champion Maria Sharapova

Looking to earn another upset, the 28-year-old stepped into the court and struck a flurry of winners to break first in the opening set. Even as the former World No.1 began to find her rhythm, Diatchenko held on to put herself one set from the finish line.

"It was weird. You know, I have been dealing with a lot, and then I just got nervous out there and I stopped moving my feet," Serena said. "And it was, like, concrete blocks on my feet. I was, like, 'You gotta do something.'"

It was then when that extra something began to pay off for the American, who halved her unfoced error count from the opening set and struck nine winners of her own to level the match with the loss of just one game.


"I was just making so many errors," she said of the first set. "Every shot I hit, I felt like I was hitting on my frame. I usually don't hit balls on my frame. I was just off, basically, and then instead of correcting it, I just kept getting worse, just to be honest.

"I knew it couldn't get worse, and I knew I could only go up. That's what I told myself. I just gotta keep positive. It was just a strange start to that match, for me.

"I have been training well. The past week and a half has been really good, and, God, it was, like, 'This isn't the Serena I have been practicing with or that I see every day,'" she added with a smile.

The ensuing decider began with a marathon on Diatchenko's serve. Williams ultimately converted the break on her fourth opportunity and swiftly rode that momentum into two more breaks and a 5-0 advantage. Serving for the match, she held on at love - winning the final set at love.

In all, the No.10 seed struck an impressive 17 winners to 21 unforced errors while maintaining a 70% win percentage behind her first serve. Diatchenko couldn't quite keep pace with her blistering start, ending with 10 winners and 21 unforced errors of her own.

Standing between Serena and a spot in the Round of 32 will be either Dalila Jakupovic or Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara.