With most of the recent talk around Serena Williams focusing on her engagement to to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, the focus came off of her march towards tennis history momentarily. But as the Australian Open has gotten under way, we can get back to talking about her quest for what would be a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title.
Serena was matched up against the hard-hitting Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic in the opening round. Bencic previously beat Serena in the 2015 Rogers Cup semifinal and to some, presented a serious challenge from the get-go in Australia.
But those notions of Serena being vulnerable were quickly put to bed when she handled her business with precision on Tuesday and easily secured the 6-4, 6-3 win.
As usual, she gave us another jaw dropping moment to savor in the opening set with a ridiculous backhand-slice winning shot, with things knotted up 4-4.
“It was amazing; it was on the run,” Serena said on the court afterwards. “I have actually been practicing that shot. I think it was a little bit of luck, but after 30 years, you deserve a little bit of luck.”
She banged out eight aces and converted 61 percent of her first serves in dusting off Bencic in little more than one hour. She also looked shaky at times, hitting 30 unforced errors, a number that will have to decrease in her ensuing matches.
“It was one of the toughest first-round matches I have played,” she said.
Serena owns 22 Grand Slam titles, but getting number 23 is no given. After losing in the 2016 US Open semifinals, she sat out the remainder of the season for the second year in a row.
A six-time Australian Open champ, she lost last year’s final to Angelique Kerber and eventually surrendered her No. 1 ranking. With a win this year in Melbourne, Serena would earn her 10th Grand Slam championship since turning 30 years old and break her tie with Steffi Graf as the Open era leader in major wins. Both have 22.
Serena is now a ridiculous 65-1 in first-round matches at Grand Slams.
“I didn’t come here to lose in the first round, or the second round, or at all,” Williams said in her pre-tournament news conference. “If I can play the way I’ve been practicing, it will be fine.”
Since 1999, she has never lost before the third round at the Australian Open.
The next step toward tennis and athletic immortality will be against French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova.