Serena Williams shook off some COVID-19 layoff rust to grind out a 7-6 (7-6), 3-6, 7-6 (7-0) win over Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus on Monday to move into the third round of the Western & Southern Open.
Williams’ matches are usually a huge draw, but with no fans allowed due to COVID-19 safety protocols there was an atmosphere of relief rather than excitement after her hard-fought victory.
“I was fine,” said Williams, when asked about playing without fans. “At one point I was pumping my fist and saying, ‘Come on.’
“I had a crowd in my head or something. It was actually funny to me. For me, it was like there was a crowd there.”
Naomi Osaka, competing in her first WTA singles match since the season resumed, battled past Karolina Muchova 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-2 to set up a clash with Dayana Yastremska.
She was joined in the third round by former champion Victoria Azarenka, who staved off a late comeback attempt by Caroline Garcia to prevail 6-2 7-6 (10-8).
By the time Williams arrived on court to face her 72nd-ranked opponent, she was the highest seed left in the women’s draw after No. 1 Karolina Pliskova and No. 2 Sofia Kenin lost their opening matches on Sunday.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova had also departed following a 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 defeat by Marie Bouzkova and Williams needed to draw on all her experience as Rus put her through a near three-hour workout.
Monday marked the first exhausting day in what could be a three-week tennis marathon for the 38-year-old Williams, who will be bidding to end her long search for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
Down 6-5 in the third set and with Rus serving for the match, a drained Williams looked down for the count but she picked herself up to break the Dutchwoman and force a deciding tiebreak. She then moved in for the kill to win it 7-0.
Despite showing signs of fatigue, Williams said she was ready to go.
“I’m actually super fit and I’m super ready,” she added. “I feel like I’m ready for anything.”
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