MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 20: Serena Williams of the United States celebrates a point during … [+]
Serena Williams took the first step toward a potential record-tying 24th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open by winning her first-round match on Sunday.
Williams, 38, closed out her 6-0, 6-3 victory over 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia with an ace up the T on match point.
Williams, the No. 8 seed, notched 24 winners and 16 unforced errors in the win.
“A very, very impressive performance by Serena in the first match that she played here,” ESPN’s Chrissie Evert said on air. “What impressed me was she was hitting the ball so hard. She was knocking the cover off the ball, yet at the same time she was very consistent. She wasn’t making errors.”
Williams, who has won more than $92 million in career prize money, entered the first Grand Slam event of the new decade after winning her first title in three years, and her first since becoming a mother, last week in Auckland, New Zealand. She donated her $43,000 prize money to Australian bush fire relief efforts
Williams also participated in a charity event on Jan. 15 in Melbourne along with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic aimed at raising funds for the relief efforts.
She enters the Australian Open with 23 Grand Slam titles, one shy of Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. Williams has lost her last four Grand Slam finals in back-to-back appearances in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals.
“It’s good to be back,” Williams said on court of the Australian Open. “I love playing here, I love playing in Melbourne. It’s one of my favorite cities so I’m still playing.”
Williams expressed concern over the bush fires and the havoc they have wreaked upon humans, animals and the environment in Australia.
“It’s important for people like me who have a big platform to raise awareness,” she said on court. “I’ve been coming to Melbourne since ‘98, believe it or not. I have friends here that I consider family, so for me in particular as a player it was incredibly devastating because I know people who have been affected. Everyone and everything and the animals, it’s been such a disaster. So it was really important for me to make that statement and to continue to make statements like that. You’ve got to keep supporting.”
On the court, Williams appears to have a solid draw toward a potential quarterfinal showdown with No. 3 seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka, who surged through a 6-2, 6-4 victory over rising Czech star Marie Bouzkova in 1 hour, 20 minutes.
“It was really tough for me, trying to control my nerves,” she said during her on-court interview. “I was really glad to finish it in two.”
Up next for Osaka is China’s Zheng Saisai, who won the biggest title of her career last summer at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. Zheng beat Russian qualifier Anna Kalinskaya in straight sets.