MELBOURNE, Australia — This was quite a return for Serena Williams. Almost as if she hadn’t left.
In her first match at the Australian Open since winning the 2017 title while pregnant — and her first official match anywhere since a loss in the chaotic U.S. Open final in September — Williams looked to be at her dominant best, overpowering Tatjana Maria 6-0, 6-2 in the first round Tuesday.
“I kind of like to jump in the deep end and swim,” Williams said in an on-court interview after the 49-minute workout, “and see what happens.”
She hadn’t dipped her toe in Grand Slam waters since New York, where everything devolved after Williams was warned for getting coaching, then docked a point for breaking a racket and eventually docked a game for calling the chair umpire “a thief” during the final.
When that match was mentioned by a reporter during Williams’ news conference Tuesday, as part of a question about whether coaching should be allowed during matches at majors, she replied, “I, like, literally have no comment.”
Truth be told, the match against Maria was not much of a test for Williams, given that the 74th-ranked player entered with an 11-15 record in first-round matches at Grand Slam tournaments, only once has made it as far as the third round at any major and owns a total of one career WTA title after a dozen years on the tour.
Photo: Kin Cheung / Associated Press
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Williams, meanwhile, is pursuing an eighth title in Melbourne and 24th Slam singles trophy overall, which would equal Margaret Court — whose career spanned the amateur and professional eras — for the most in history.
“I have been going for the record (for) what seems like forever now,” said Williams, 37, “so it doesn’t feel any different.”
How lopsided was this?
Williams needed all of 18 minutes to wrap up the first set, ceding just five of 29 points along the way.
The American, a former No. 1 who is seeded 16th on account of playing only 24 matches in 2018, did not face a single break point and compiled a 22-7 edge in winners.
“Maybe,” Maria said afterward, “I was a little bit overwhelmed.”
The two players have homes near each other in a gated community in Florida — “We do sometimes barbecue together,” Maria said — and their daughters — Williams’ is 16 months old; Maria’s is 5 years old — share play dates.
“I think the last time I was here, I was actually pregnant and playing at the same time, which is insane,” Williams said. “It was kind of weird walking back on — by myself, this time.”
Two years ago, no one knew Serena Williams was carrying her child while winning her 23rd major title to break a tie with Steffi Graf for the most in the half-century professional era. Her baby, Olympia, was born Sept. 1, 2017, and Williams was off the tour until March.
Howard Fendrich is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Serena-Williams-wins-Australian-Open-return-13536906.php.