Serena makes winning return

Serena makes winning return

FIERCE: Serena Williams of the US returns during her win over Czech Republic’s Krystina Pliskova in the first round of the French Open in Paris on Tuesday. REUTERS

Even the Parisian stormclouds cleared for Serena Williams on Tuesday, as the new mother’s baby steps back to Grand Slam tennis became a stride into the second round of the French Open.

Krystina Pliskova, who shared the Wimbledon winners’ stage with Serena back in 2010 -- the Czech was junior champion as Serena won the real thing that year, played her part across the net on centre court, but there was only one star.

Dressed in a skintight, all-in-one black bodysuit, broken up by a vivid scarlet belt, Serena captivated the French crowd from the start of the contest to its 7-6 (4), 6-4 conclusion.

“Two years has been a really long time,” she told the crowd in French, referring to her last match on clay. “I am just so happy to have won a match here... thank you all.”

“I don’t know how many aces there were,” Serena smiled courtside after the match. “But I think the money goes to charity, so donate!

“I think we raised some real money,” she laughed before making her way to the exit, stopping for selfies and to sign autographs for an appreciative French crowd. Next up for the three-times champion is Australian 17th seed Ashleigh Barty.

It won’t be an encounter Barty will relish. She could be considered the most unlucky of seeds in a Grand Slam, for there can never have been a more dangerous floater in the draw.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal survived a mini-crisis to rack up his 80th win at Roland Garros on Tuesday as the 10-time champion defeated Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11/9) to reach the second round.

World number one Nadal had been two sets up but 0-3 down in the third when rain caused the tie to be suspended late Monday.

He quickly levelled at 3-3 on Tuesday, saved four break points in the eighth game before saving four set points.

Nadal eventually claimed the match on a third match point when Bolelli dumped a forehand into the net.

The top seeded Nadal, bidding for an 11th title in Paris and his 17th major, next faces Argentina’s Guido Pella for a place in the last 32.

There was the usual pre-toss skipping routine, an abundance of shrieks and the oft-seen mid-match wobble as Maria Sharapova returned to the French Open following a two-year hiatus with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win against Richel Hogenkamp.

The former world number one ended up spending more time than she would have wanted on court Suzanne Lenglen in defeating the Dutch qualifier but the only thing that mattered was that she was through to round two.

“It is great to be back on a court that I have had great success on. I have always loved playing here. It’s been a Grand Slam that was very difficult for me to do well at physically, mentally. I overcame that,” Sharapova told reporters.

“So to be back here and kind of relive those moments playing back again is very exciting.

“I felt like I had a great reception today.” “I feel like I got very impatient in the second set for not many reasons,” Sharapova added. “She was becoming a little bit more consistent, and I think I lost a little bit of pace on my ball, but I finished out six straight games. I think if there is any way to turn that match around, it’s that way.”

Third seed Marin Cilic reached the second round with a 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) win over Australia’s James Duckworth.

Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov eased to a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Australian John Millman in his first ever main-draw French Open match. Third seed and 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza defeated 2009 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 (7/0), 6-2.