Williams starts bid for 24th Slam with a bang
A focused Serena Williams sent an ominous Australian Open warning with a 49-minute first-round demolition yesterday.
US Open champion Naomi Osaka also stormed through, but world No. 1 Simona Halep was lucky to stay alive, needing to dig deep and claw back from a set down before beating Kaia Kanepi 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-2.
American giant Williams is bidding to match Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam crowns on her first return to Melbourne Park since winning in 2017 while eight weeks pregnant.
Now 37, she kept a low profile in the lead-up and came out of the blocks flying against fellow mum Tatjana Maria, pummelling her German opponent 6-0, 6-2.
Sporting a striking jade green jumpsuit and fine mesh stockings in the Rod Laver Arena, the 16th seed wasted no time in getting out of the blistering Melbourne heat and said it was good to be back.
"The last time I was here, I was pregnant and playing at the same time which is insane," she said.
"It's weird walking back on - by myself this time - it feels good. I have so many memories from last time I was here.
"It was nice to be back out there. Last time I was out there was a great moment, especially internally for me, it was even a better moment.
"I think it was a good match today."
Bidding for an eighth Melbourne Park crown, few are betting against Williams despite her lowly seeding and she next faces Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who eased past China's Peng Shuai 6-2, 6-1.
"It will be a great match. She plays really well," Williams said of Bouchard, who reached the Australian Open and French semi-finals and the Wimbledon final in 2014.
Williams played at the mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth this month, but her appearance yesterday was her first outing on tour since a meltdown in losing the US Open final to Osaka in September.
Japan's Osaka, seeded fourth, wasted little time in dispatching Poland's Magda Linette 6-4, 6-2 and will next play Tamara Zidansek of Slovakia. - AFP