PARIS, May 31 — Serena Williams said yesterday that “everything feels harder” after her recent injury troubles despite thrashing Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara to step up her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
The 37-year-old cruised into the third round with a 6-3, 6-2 victory on Court Philippe Chatrier.
She had played only four matches heading into Roland Garros since collapsing to defeat late on in the Australian Open quarter-finals against Karolina Pliskova earlier this year.
“I have had a tough year since I twisted my ankle in Australia,” said Williams.
“It’s just been really tough after that. So everything definitely feels a little bit harder than normal, but at the same time, I know that it’s going to get better.”
Williams will face Sofia Kenin for a last-16 spot, after her fellow American received a walkover following Canadian Bianca Andreescu’s withdrawal through injury.
“I know her game really well. She had a really great run in Australia, and I have been watching her,” she said of Kenin, who reached the second round at the Australian Open.
“I think it will be a good match. She has a lot to bring to the table.”
The three-time Roland Garros title winner had racked up her 800th career main draw win in a first-round match against Vitalia Diatchenko, which saw her unveil her ‘mother, champion, queen, goddess’ logo on her playing gear, despite dropping the opening set.
A mouthwatering quarter-final clash with Naomi Osaka, who famously beat Williams in a dramatic 2018 US Open final, remains a possibility after the world number one’s thrilling three-set win over Victoria Azarenka.
Williams was back at her best yesterday, hammering 10 aces and 36 winners past Nara as she looks to draw level with Margaret Court’s all-time record of major singles titles.
And she was quick to play down a photo that circulated on social media last week showing her sitting in a wheelchair while on a trip to Disneyland Paris.
“I’m not going to get into that. I’m playing, and all’s good.”
Her last Grand Slam trophy came at the 2017 Australian Open before taking a break from the sport to give birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia.
It is the 15th time Williams has reached the last 32 in Paris, and will be her 66th Grand Slam third-round match in total.
World number 238 Nara, who stands a mere 5ft 1in (1.55m), showed some early resistance in a marathon sixth game that featured nine deuces, saving six break points to leave her illustrious opponent frustrated.
But 10th seed Williams did break in Nara’s next service game, powering a forehand return past her opponent, before serving out the opening set with ease.
The match was as good as over as a serious contest just three games into the second set, when Williams took advantage of her third break point to claim a 2-1 lead.
And Williams cantered through as Nara wilted, sealing the win on her second match point with an ace. — AFP