US player Serena Williams / AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK /
Serena Williams overcame rust and a troublesome wind to launch her comeback from a four-month lay-off with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 69th-ranked Pauline Parmentier at the Auckland Classic on Tuesday.
In her first outing since she was shocked by Karolina Pliskova in the US Open semi-finals in September, the world number two made a sluggish start to a season in which she is seeking a record 23rd Grand Slam title.
In her first-round match, delayed from Monday when rain washed out play, Williams struggled initially as France’s Parmentier broke the American’s first service game and then held to love.
The 35-year-old, using Auckland to warm up for the Australian Open, only had a 48 percent success rate with her first serve and double-faulted four times as she had trouble adjusting to the swirling wind.
But Williams — who shares the Open-era record of 22 Grand Slams with Steffi Graf, and is two behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 — grew steadily stronger and finished with her eighth ace.
“I definitely felt that rust, but mentally I knew how to get it back and get in there,” Williams said, adding it “wasn’t fun” playing in the wind.
“Unfortunately I have the highest of goals and obviously that involves winning Grand Slams and that’s all,” said Williams, who last week announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
“It’s basically all I want to do, but you have to win tournaments like this, or do well in them, to win Grand Slams, so these events really count.”
The third and fourth seeds, Caroline Wozniacki and Barbora Strycova, both cruised through their opening matches, with Wozniacki beating American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-2 and Strycova a 6-4, 6-3 winner over fellow Croatian Barbora Stefkova.
However, the rain again affected evening play with second seed Venus Williams also making a slow start as she was 2-2 in the first set against New Zealander Jade Lewis when play was stopped for the day.
Fifth seed Kiki Bertens had reason to bemoan the unseasonal weather. She was 5-3 up against American Lauren Davis when play was abandoned on Monday, but could not find the same rhythm when play resumed and she lost 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.