By Steve Keating
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Serena Williams took the first cautious step towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a 6-4 6-0 first-round win over Magda Linette on Monday as an excited U.S. Open crowd welcomed the new tennis mother back to the ‘Big Apple’.
It was not the imposing performance many have come to expect from Williams as the six-time champion continued to scrape the rust off her game following the birth of her first child.
The manner of the victory, however, mattered little to a home crowd that was just happy to see her back on court after sitting out last year.
“It is such a great feeling to be back out here,” said Williams. “It is one of those feeling I only get here in New York.”
Telling the crowd that her spirit was broken after not saying goodbye to her daughter Olympia before leaving for her match, Williams displayed little appetite for a fight during an uneven opening set until she finally seized control with a break to go up 4-3.
Williams, the winner of 72 career singles titles, has the ability to sense when she has an opponent on the ropes and moved in quickly to deliver the knockout punch, breaking the 68th ranked Pole to open the second.
While her game might not have been firing on all cylinders her ruthlessness remained razor sharp as the American showed no hesitation storming through second set finishing off her opponent with a thundering ace.
The Williams sisters bridged the afternoon and evening sessions on a steamy Arthur Ashe with Venus providing the opening act of the twin bill, grinding out a 6-3 5-7 6-3 victory over another former champion, Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, before handing the stage over to her younger sibling.
The wins put the sisters on a collision course, leaving them just one victory away from a third-round showdown.
While Venus remains a potential obstacle standing in the way of a 24th Grand Slam, Serena’s path to the final was cleared of another major hurdle earlier on Monday when world number one Simona Halep was upset by Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.
“There’s still several matches to play before you’re there,” said Williams about a possible meeting with her sister. “Right now I just feel like I’m on the road to getting better.
“I’m just going to be on that road till I get there.”
It might not have been a stylish win over Linette but it was nonetheless a stylish display by Williams.
As always, the fashion conscious Williams created a buzz as she appeared from the players tunnel under a spotlight wearing a leather style jacket over a frilly off the shoulder tennis dress and fishnet compression tights designed to help circulation and avoid blood clots.
“It’s easy to play in, kind of aerodynamic with the one arm free,” said Williams. “The tutu is easy to play in because I practiced in it before. That was fun.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)