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Serena wins first Australian Open match


Getty Images: Serena Williams on court in Melbourne. © Getty Images Serena Williams on court in Melbourne.

Doubt dusted away, Serena Williams has won her first official tennis match in over four months today in the first round the Australian Open. 

Welcome back, Serena.

Williams, the world No. 1 and defending champion here, beat Italian Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-5 in her first competitive match since early September. The last match she played was against another Italian, Roberta Vinci, in Vinci’s historic upset of Williams in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, denying the American a shot at the calendar Grand Slam two matches from the finish line.

Scoreline: [1] Serena Williams (USA) def. Camila Giorgi (ITA) 6-4, 7-5

It was a more significant win for Williams than it may have appeared, the 34-year-old having ended her season early in 2015 after that U.S. Open upset. Two weeks ago at an exhibition event in Perth she did not complete the one match she played, withdrawing due to inflammation in her knee.

She’ll face either Su-Wei Hsieh or Jelena Ostapenko in the second round.

What it means: Williams has a match under her belt, which is most important for the five-time champion here and usual favorite in the women’s event. A cloud had hovered over much of her camp since the Perth injury, Williams needing an on-court trainer Saturday during a practice session. She batted away questions ahead about that, however, saying she felt “120, 130 percent” ready to defend her title. 

Asked on Saturday what she expected of herself this Australian Open, she rolled her eyes, retorting: “I mean, we all know the answer to that, so... no need to even say it.”

How it happened: Williams opened with a 4-1 lead on Giorgi, the world No. 35 and first played not to be seeded here. The hard-hitting Italian brought the score back to 4-5, but Williams forced a return error to wrap up the first set with a fist pump, 6-4.

The second set was an even affair. Both women held serve through the first 10 games, Giorgi overcoming seven double faults in the set to keep up with Williams, known as the best server in women’s tennis. But Williams broke in the 11th game and then served it out 

Key stat: Against a dangerous opponent, Williams kept her winners-to-unforced errors stat rather close, belting 19 untouchables while making 22 mistakes. She was a scratchy three for 10 on break points, but the one that mattered – late in the second set – went her way. 

What she said: “I think I was able to stay in it and stay calm today,” Williams said on court after the win. “I’m happy to be back here. Everyday to come back out here is just so amazing, it’s great. What makes it special for me is that I still get those butterflies and those nerves.” 

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