Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

'I'm just Olympia's mum': Serena Williams' history chase begins with quick win at Australian Open

American needs less than an hour to blast her way past Potapova while defending champion Osaka breaks the net in defeating Bouzkova

Serena Williams took less than an hour to work her way past Anastasia Potapova in their first-round match at the Australian Open. EPA
Serena Williams took less than an hour to work her way past Anastasia Potapova in their first-round match at the Australian Open. EPA

Serena Williams needed less than an hour to secure her place in the second round of the Australian Open, with Anastasia Potapova on the receiving end of a demolition job in Melbourne.

Williams, 38, wearing a lilac dress and matching trainers, and sporting heavily decorated fingernails, powered past the Russian teenager 6-0, 6-3 in 58 minutes.

The eighth seed American plays Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia or Han Na-lae of South Korea in round two, with Williams looking to equal the all-time record of Grand Slam titles.

Williams comes into Melbourne in ominous form after breaking her three-year title drought with victory in Auckland - her first since becoming a mother to daughter Olympia.

Olympia was there to see her mother win the title last week, but Williams said after easing to victory over the 18-year-old Potapova: "It was really special for me and her [Olympia] - I hope for her."

But Williams, speaking to an adoring crowd at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena, admitted that Olympia "just cares about Play-Doh".

"I try to tell her I'm someone, you know," she joked.

"[But] I am just known about town as Olympia's mum - I love that."

Williams threatened to blow away Potapova in embarrassingly rapid fashion.

But the 90th-ranked Russian, overawed in the first set in just 19 minutes, fought back and broke Williams' serve in the second, helped by some sloppiness from the American.

Williams double-faulted to go down a surprise 2-1, but there was never a hint of an upset as the American broke back before pulling away to an easy win.

There is huge pressure on Williams as she eyes the 24 Grand Slams won by Australia's Margaret Court.

Since winning the title in Melbourne in 2017 she has lost four Slam finals, each time failing to even win a set.

Williams, the highest-earning female in sport, was pregnant with Olympia when she lifted the Melbourne crown three years ago.

Japan's Naomi Osaka in action during the match against Czech Republic's Marie Bouzkova. Reuters
Japan's Naomi Osaka in action during the match against Czech Republic's Marie Bouzkova. Reuters

Naomi Osaka began her Australian Open title defence in emphatic fashion, breaking the net with a blockbuster serve as she dismantled unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova.

The 22-year-old Japanese, the world's second highest-paid female athlete after Williams, powered through 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes.

The two-time Grand Slam champion, one of the prime threats to Williams's bid to win a record-equalling 24th major, will play China's Zheng Saisai in round two.

Thrid seed Osaka saw her victory march held up for a few minutes early in the second set after a fizzing serve clocked at 183 kilometres per hour damaged a net tether.

"Broke the net today," Osaka tweeted afterwards to her more than 500,000 followers, along with a video of three maintenance personnel rushing onto court to repair the broken fixture.

Osaka, who endured a turbulent 2019 after winning in Melbourne 12 months ago, was relieved to overcome the 59th-ranked Bouzkova safely.

"It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves," she said. "It's tough to play someone you've never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam. I hope I'm still standing here at the end of this week."

Osaka has spoken openly about her struggles with negative headlines and the weight of expectation, but was in relaxed mood throughout.

It was partly because her Haitian father Leonard Francois, who was her coach for back-to-back titles in the autumn in Japan and China, was in her player's box for the first time at a Grand Slam.

"Before when he used to sit in my box I would just look at him and complain a lot," the former world No 1 told a press conference, calling her father "superstitious".

"But I have matured over the past three or four years he hasn't sat in my box.

"He was my coach during Tokyo and Beijing and was sitting in my box the entire time.

"He has a good winning streak by sitting in my box."

The first Grand Slam of the year went ahead as scheduled on Monday after air pollution eased in Melbourne - although that gave way to rain.

Last week's build-up to the Australian Open was plagued by choking haze from widespread bushfires, forcing organisers to temporarily delay qualifying matches.

Updated: January 20, 2020 09:46 AM

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