PARIS (AFP) – Serena Williams started her latest bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a hard-fought victory over Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu in the first ever French Open night session on Monday (May 31).
The 39-year-old, seeded seventh this year, saved two set points in a first-set tie-break before winning 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.
Williams, who has lost four major finals since her last Slam success at the 2017 Australian Open, will take on Begu’s compatriot Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second round.
“It wasn’t easy in that first set. I was up and I felt like I had some opportunities. She’s a really good player, she’s had some really good wins so I was really happy I was able to get that first set and the match,” said the three-time Roland Garros champion.
The first official night match under the lights on Court Philippe Chatrier was played behind closed doors due to a 9pm curfew imposed by the French government due to Covid-19.
Williams, who had suffered early defeats in both Roma and Parma earlier this month, improved as the match progressed.
Begu fought back from 5-2 down in the opening set, but failed to serve it out when leading 6-5 and then saw two set points come and go when leading the breaker 6-4.
Williams needed only one opportunity, driving a forehand volley into the corner to take control.
The former world number one strengthened her grip on the tie by breaking 74th-ranked Begu in the first game of the second set.
She moved through the gears on her own serve from there and broke again in the seventh game before wrapping up victory after an hour and 42 minutes.