By Frank Pingue
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Serena Williams trounced old foe Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-1 in their blockbuster first-round clash at the U.S. Open on Monday to get her quest for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title off to a flying start.
Williams, returning to the U.S. Open after last year’s infamous final in which her row with the chair umpire overshadowed Naomi Osaka’s maiden Grand Slam victory, used her trademark power to overwhelm Sharapova in the first New York meeting between two of the sport’s biggest names.
Eighth seed Williams showed no signs of the back spasms that forced her to retire in tears from the Toronto final two weeks ago and instead showcased some of her best on-court movement since returning from maternity leave in 2018.
“The body is good,” Williams told the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I feel good. My back is a lot better so I’m excited. This is going to be fun.”
The rivals, who have had a frosty relationship that dates back to 2004 when Sharapova earned her breakout win against Williams in that year’s Wimbledon final, came out firing right from the start.
Sharapova did her best to trade big shots with Williams but it quickly became apparent she simply did not have the same high gear she used to collect five Grand Slam titles.
The Russian has fallen to 87th in the rankings during an injury-hit season that included shoulder surgery in February.
Williams, dialed-in throughout the 59-minute encounter, got the first break of the match to go ahead 3-1 and that appeared to free up the six-time champion’s playing style as she did not give Sharapova any chance to wrestle away momentum.
The 37-year-old Williams, facing Sharapova for the first time since the 2016 Australian Open, kept pressing and grabbed a double-break for a 5-1 lead and went on to serve out the set.
Sharapova had chances to punch back in the second set but was unable to cash in on any of the five break points she had, the first two while trailing 2-1 and then another three while behind 4-1.
Williams, who improved to 20-2 in career meetings with the Russian, will next face Catherine McNally after the American wildcard beat Swiss Timea Bacsinszky 6-4 6-1 earlier in the day.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Ian Ransom/Peter Rutherford)