Serena Williams rallies after French Open first-round scare

CNN/ Newswire | 5/28/2019, 10:36 a.m.
For all her singles titles on the grass at Wimbledon -- seven of them -- Serena Williams can still thrive ...
Serena Williams

Originally Published: 27 MAY 19 15:21 ET

Updated: 28 MAY 19 05:53 ET

By Ravi Ubha, CNN

(CNN) -- For all her singles titles on the grass at Wimbledon -- seven of them -- Serena Williams can still thrive on clay, despite its challenges.

The surface known as "terre battue" in French softens power games and has a way of extending battles, which can create problems, especially at late stages of careers.

On a blustery day in Paris on Monday, Williams looked in danger of losing in the opening round at the tournament for a second time, before defeating 83rd-ranked Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia 2-6 6-1 6-0 for her 800th main-draw professional win.

Such comebacks have been a hallmark of Williams' unprecedented career. But showing rust in just her 10th match of 2019 -- against the same opponent who stunned Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon last year -- Williams appeared more vulnerable than usual.

Ultimately she came through it during a stretch of the campaign Williams usually enjoys.

The French Open buildup tournament of Rome, for example, holds special memories -- husband Alexis Ohanian first met and proposed to her in the Italian capital -- and Williams has long owned an apartment in Paris. She likes competing on clay, too.

But that's not to say things have gone entirely smoothly for Williams at Roland Garros.

Of the American's open era record 23 majors, only three have come at the French Open.

And the only time in three decades Williams ever lost a first-round grand slam match came at the same venue in 2012 against France's Virginie Razzano.

Turned it around

Williams admitted to more nerves than usual and having "concrete blocks on my feet," which could explain Monday's first set.

The manner however in which she dominated the final two sets is promising for the 37-year-old, who is seeking to match Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slams and dually win her first as a mom.

She will certainly hope to complete a second match, something she has failed to do at any tournament since January's Australian Open.

A knee injury or illness ruled her out at Indian Wells, Miami and Rome, where the knee problem scuppered a meeting with older sister Venus. Her pivotal ankle sprain at the Australian Open got the injury ball rolling and Williams said "everything went downhill from there."

A year after wearing a catsuit that displeased tournament officials -- there were medical reasons for the outfit -- Williams donned a zebra printed outfit on center court that eventually required a sweat top due to a dip in temperatures. A cape that went with it before the match had the words "mother, champion, queen, goddess."

"Those are things that mean a lot to me and reminders for me and for everyone that wants to wear it," she said. "Just remind everyone that they can be champions and are queens. So I love that about it.

"And I don't know, my super power today was just hanging in there and staying positive for once."