World No.1 Serena Williams was relieved to survive a tough early test and safely advance to the second round of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
The six-times champion needed one hour 45 minutes to see off Italian Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-5 in sweltering conditions one day one of the Open.
A knee injury had prevented Williams from completing a competitive match since the US Open in September, but the American came through unscathed to book a second-round meeting on Wednesday with either Latvian Jelena Ostapenko or Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh.
“It wasn’t very easy. She obviously plays very well and knows how to play the shots,” Williams said.
“I haven’t played a competitive match in a long while but it was really good.
“It wasn’t quick so that worked to my advantage. I was able to stay in it and stay calm today and that’s what matters most.”
Williams broke Giorgi twice in the opening set but couldn’t crack the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw again until the 11th game of the second set when the Italian double-faulted on game point.
The top seed didn’t need a second invitation to close out the match, finishing the contest with her ninth ace to preserve her record of never having lost in the first round in 15 visits to Melbourne Park.
Earlier, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also dispelled any lingering fitness doubts to be the first player through to the second round.
The sixth seed scored a commanding 6-3 6-1 win over Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum in the opening match of the tournament at Rod Laver Arena.
Kvitova pulled out of last week’s Sydney International with gastro, having also retired mid-match during the first round in Shenzhen earlier this month, her only other tournament appearance since the Fed Cup final in November.
“I had a great off-season with fitness and tennis preparation and when I got to China I got some stomach virus or something and I was just laying and going quite often to the toilet for eight to nine days,” Kvitova said.
“So I didn’t eat very well and I lost some weight and that’s why I withdrew from Sydney as well.
“But I’m feeling much better now.”
The world No.7 defied the 30-plus-degree temperatures to blast 18 winners and five aces while dropping serve just once in an impressive 70-minute workout against Kumkhum.
“I’m very pleased with how I played today, how I handled the nerves and everything,” Kvitova said.
“First rounds are always very tough and for me it was my first match of the season so I’m really glad how I did.”
Kvitova next faces Daria Gavrilova on Wednesday for a place in the last 32 after Australia’s rising star ousted Czech Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (6-3) 6-4 in her opener.
In other early women’s matches on Monday, Spanish 10th seed Carla Suarez beat Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic 7-5 6-4 and American Nicole Gibbs defeated Czech Klara Koukalova 6-2 2-6 6-1.
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