Serena Williams is a winner in the first scheduled night session in French Open history. She overcame two set points to beat Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6 (6), 6-2 under the lights in the first round.
Matches at last year’s tournament in September stretched into the night on courts with new lights. But scheduled night play is new this year at Roland Garros.
Williams and Begu took the court in the twilight at 9 p.m. with the stadium stands empty. Fans are being admitted for day matches this year, but not for night sessions.
Williams struggled with her first serve but moved well and played aggressively, charging forward when she had the chance. Facing a set point in the tiebreaker, she sprinted in and from the service line whacked a nervy swinging volley for a winner.
She has won the French Open three times, most recently in 2015, and at age 39 is chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Williams improved to 77-1 in first-round Slam matches. The loss came in Paris in 2012.
Elsewhere, the president of the French tennis federation said Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open is “unfortunate” and wished her the “quickest possible recovery.”
The four-time Slam champion pulled out of the French Open on Monday, saying that she would be taking a break from competition. She said she has “suffered long bouts of depression.” She had previously declared she would not speak to the media during Roland Garros and was fined $15,000 after she skipped the post-match news conference following her first-round victory Sunday.
In a statement to journalists at Roland Garros, Gilles Moretton said “first and foremost we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka.”
Moretton said he is looking forward “to having Naomi in our tournament next year,” and insisted that the event organizers were committed to “all athletes’ well-being.”
Williams was asked for her reaction to Osaka’s decision following her win.
“Honestly I just found out before I walked into the press conference, so that’s the extent of it right now for me,” Williams told reporters.
Asked for her opinion on Osaka’s claim that post-match media conferences were damaging her mental wellbeing, Williams said, “The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions.”
She continued, “We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick (skinned). Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that’s the only thing I can say. I think she’s doing the best that she can.”
Williams also said that it was important for players to have someone to use as a “sounding board” in challenging times.
“You have to be able to make an effort and say, I need help with A, B, C, and D, and talk to someone,” she added.
“Whether it’s someone at the WTA or whether it’s someone in your life. Maybe it’s someone that you just talk to on a weekly basis. I’ve been in that position, too. I’ve definitely had opportunities to talk to people, kind of get things off my chest that I can’t necessarily talk to anyone in my family or anyone that I know.”
With files from Reuters.