‘A runaway train’: Serena Williams wins opener in Paris

Paris: Serena Williams went from a 72-minute struggle of a first set that required a tiebreaker to resolve in her first-round match at the French Open to a lopsided second set in which she did not drop a game.

"I just need to play with more confidence," Williams said, by way of explanation for how her 7-6 (2), 6-0 victory over 102nd-ranked Kristie Ahn unfolded on Monday (Tuesday AEST), "like I'm Serena."

Serena Williams didn’t drop a game in the second set of her opening-round match.Credit:Getty Images

Well, yes, she was more herself for the latter half of the contest, which by the end really wasn't much of a contest.

And this is how Ahn described the sensation of being across the net from that version of Williams, the one where she is at her very best.

"It feels like you're trying to push a runaway train in the opposite direction," Ahn said. "It's very difficult to try and stop, to stop her momentum when she's going, when she's feeling it."

Imagine Ahn's (bad) luck of the draw: She is the first player to face Williams in the first round at two consecutive grand slam tournaments, having also lost their match-up at the US Open.

"I mean, I laughed," Ahn said. "I mean, what are the odds?"

Kristie Ahn said playing Williams at her best was like facing a runaway train.Credit:AP

They were followed onto Court Philippe Chartier by 12-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.

The man Nadal beat in the last two finals, Dominic Thiem, won his first match since winning the US Open, advancing to the second round with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic.

This, too, was a recent rematch from New York.

Thiem will next face American qualifier Jack Sock, who beat Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and was one of six men from the US to get to the second round; only one did a year ago in Paris.

Among the key results on day 2 of a chilly, pandemic-postponed French Open were losses by 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, who was beaten 6-1, 6-2 by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek; 2017 US Open finalist and 2018 French Open semi-finalist Madison Keys; and men's seeds No. 14 Fabio Fognini and No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Williams now gets another rematch, facing Tsvetana Pironkova, the player the 39-year-old American beat in the quarter-finals in New York earlier this month.

"It's always exciting to face her," Pironkova said.

Williams has won three of her professional-era record 23 grand slam singles titles in Paris; add one more and she'll equal Margaret Court's all-era mark.

She keeps coming close: Williams has made it to the final at four of the past eight major tournaments, losing each time. At the US Open, she exited in the semi-finals against Victoria Azarenka, slowed a bit down the stretch after hurting her left Achilles tendon.

Williams wore a strip of black athletic tape on the lower portion of that leg on Monday. Asked after the match what she's done to take care of herself, she replied: "A ton of prayer."

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