Top seed Serena Williams began her Olympic title defense with a hard-fought win over young Aussie Daria Gavrilova in Rio de Janeiro.
WTA Staff

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams survived some breezy conditions to ease past unseeded Aussie Daria Gavrilova, 6-4, 6-2, to reach the second round of the Olympic tennis event.

"It felt really good to be out htere today," Serena said after the match. "It's been a long time; four years ago I was out here playing the Olympics, so it's really cool to be here again."

Serena swept the singles and doubles events four years ago in London, but struggled early on against Gavrilova, who was making her Olympic debut. Racing out to a 5-2 lead in the opening set, Serena found herself pegged back to 5-4 against the combined forces of the Aussie and the dust storm known as a "haboob," but played her best tennis when it mattered most to put herself a set from victory after 49 minutes.

"Early on it was super windy, and it was a survival of just who could get the ball in; it wasn't quality tennis because of the strange and tough conditions. But I got through it."

Gavrilova is a former Youth Olympic gold medalist in 2010, and began 2016 with a bang, winning the Hopman Cup alongside countryman Nick Kyrgios and reaching the round of 16 at the Australian Open; the youngster continued to fight in the second set, digging out of a marathon sixth game to keep herself in contention, but ultimately succumbed on her third match point.

Hoping to win her fifth Olympic gold medal - and second in singles - Serena will next play the winner of Johanna Larsson and Alizé Cornet for a spot in the third round. The American will also begin her doubles campaign with sister Venus, who took a heart-breaking loss to Kirsten Flipkens on the first day of play last night.

"We just want to have the chance. Hopefully we can win a couple of matches, and see how it goes. We love playing doubles, period, so every four years, we know we have a chance where we're guaranteed to get some matches."

At the start of the weekend, Serena got a shoutout from former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently the Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidental election:

No.2 seed Angelique Kerber was not too far behind her American rival on Sunday, winning the last five games of her first round match against Mariana Duque-Mariño, 6-3, 7-5.

The 2012 Olympic tennis event quarterfinalist was coming off a run to the semifinals at the Rogers Cup, but didn't have things all her own way against the Colombian, who took a 5-2 lead in the second set - holding a set point on her own serve at 5-3 - before the German came back to book her place in the second round.

Kerber will next play Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, who sailed past Sloane Stephens, 6-3, 6-3; Bouchard beat Kerber in their most recent encounter at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.