PARIS-Sixth seed Serena Williams battled sluggish conditions to defeat fellow American Kristie Ahn 7-6(2) 6-0 to open her campaign at the French Open on Monday.

Playing against an opponent she defeated at the same stage at the U.S. Open less than a month ago, Williams found herself trailing twice in the opening set at the Court Philippe Chatrier but rallied each time to force a tiebreaker. Williams, who has won three of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at Roland Garros, raised her level in the tiebreaker and did not look back from there, handing the 102nd-ranked Ahn a bagel in the second set. 

“She played very well in the first set, it wasn’t easy for me and she hit a lot of winners,” said Williams. “It was important for me to stay focused.” The 39-year-old had to dig deep to find a way to win points in the cold and heavy conditions and needed five match points to seal the victory and set up a second round meeting against Tsvetana Pironkova, who earlier beat Andrea Petkovic 6-3 6-3.

Meanwhile Thiem, the runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Paris the past two years, defeated 2014 US Open champion Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in their second meeting at a major this month. “My level was good. I was very happy with the way I played from the beginning to the end basically,” said Thiem.

Having captured his maiden Slam in New York, Thiem is trying to become the only man in the Open era to win his first two majors at successive tournaments. A steady display from Thiem saw the Austrian break Cilic six times under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier on another gloomy day at Roland Garros, pushed back from its customary May-June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I really love this tournament, it’s by far my best Grand Slam tournament so far,” said Thiem, who plays American qualifier Jack Sock in the second round. “I’m from Austria so I know how it is to play in these cold conditions. I love it when it’s not too fast. I felt well from the first moment I came here.” 

Play on Monday was initially delayed by more persistent rain. Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova defeated Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 in the only match to start on time under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier. Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens recovered from a poor start once conditions improved to overhaul 112th-ranked Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 2-6, 6-2, 6-0. Third seed Elina Svitolina scrapped past Varvara Gracheva of Russia 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 while last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova was bundled out 6-1, 6-2 by 2018 junior champion Iga Swiatek.

NADAL wins OPENER

World No. 2 Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record-extending 13th event title with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Egor Gerasimov. Nadal was efficient with his chances, converting all five of his break points. A trophy at the end of the fortnight would bring Nadal even with Roger Federer for the most men’s majors of 20. For a spot in the third round, the Spaniard will face Mackenzie McDonald. The American beat qualifier Steven Diaz, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.