Serena Williams was featured in the first night match in French Open history on Monday — and she made the most of the opportunity.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion remained alive for a record-tying 24th major title by knocking off Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, 7-6(6), 6-2 under the lights on Court Chartier to advance to the second round at Roland Garros. Because there is a 9 p.m. curfew in Paris due to the pandemic, there were no fans in the stands.
“Well, it’s cool because it’s a new night match,” Williams told Jon Wertheim of Tennis Channel on court. “In all my eons of playing here, there’s never been a night session at Roland Garros. It’s cool, I’ve never played this late.”
It was the 363rd career victory for Williams, 39, at a Grand Slam, tying her with fellow 39-year-old Roger Federer, who won in straight sets earlier Monday.
Serena wore a peridot-colored outfit with a black Nike
The No. 7 seed trailed 6-4 in the tiebreak, but stayed calm and cool and won four points in a row to take it 8-6 with a running forehand volley smash.
“I know what to do, I’ve been here a million times and I just have to do it because I know how to get out of those positions and those tight shots so that’s what I tried to focus on today,” Serena said
In the sixth game of the second set, Williams persevered through a tough game to hold for 4-2. She served out the match with a service winner.
While Williams advanced, several other big names are out of the tournament, including world No. 2 and four-time major champion Naomi Osaka, who withdrew one day after getting a $15,000 fine for her media boycott.
Two-time major winner and No. 12 seed Garbine Muguruza lost in straight sets to Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine. Bianca Andreescu, the No. 6 seed and 2019 U.S. Open champion, lost in three sets to Tamara Zidanšek of Slovenia. No. 16 seed Kiki Bertens and No. 19 Johanna Konta also lost.
Williams, who turns 40 in September, remains at 23 majors, one shy of Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24, and it is important to her to attempt to tie — and break — the record.
“It’s not enough, I still want to win more,” she said earlier this season, per EuroSport.” I want that title to be solidified in concrete.”
Since returning to the tour after her pregnancy, she has played 11 Grand Slams, reaching the quarterfinals or better seven times, the semis or better six times and the final four times. Yet she is 0-4 in Grand Slam finals over that time.
Although she has won the French three times, her most realistic shot at No. 24 will likely be at Wimbledon, where she has won seven of her 23 majors. She reached the final the last two years, only to lose to Angelique Kerber (2018) and Simona Halep (2019) in straight sets.