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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova win on return to French Open

American three-time champion came through a close contest against Kristyna Pliskova 

Serena Williams celebrates winning her first round match against Kristyna Pliskova at the French Open. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters
Serena Williams celebrates winning her first round match against Kristyna Pliskova at the French Open. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

Former world No 1 Serena Williams made a victorious return to the French Open on Tuesday, defeating the Czech Republic's Kristyna Pliskova in a closely-fought first round contest.

Williams, a three-time champion at Roland Garros, was making her first appearance at the tournament since 2016 having missed much of last season to give birth to her first child.

Despite not competing on a clay court since the French Open two years ago, the 36-year-old American showed few signs of rust, edging a big-serving contest 7-6, 6-4.

There were 28 aces served in the match, with 17 delivered in a first set that saw both players hold firm on serve. Pliskova moved into a 3-0 lead in the tie-break before Williams fought back to claim the opening set.

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The second set saw five breaks of serve, with Williams clinching the decisive fifth before serving out the match. The 23-time grand slam champion will next face Australian Ashleigh Barty in the second round.

"Kristyna played really, really well," Williams said. "I don't know how many aces I saw during the match. I think there is a donation to charity for each ace, so both of us helped.

"Two years is a long time but I've trained hard on this surface. I'm so glad to win a match here and I'm taking it one day at a time."

Williams is joined in the second round by Maria Sharapova after the Russian fought back to defeat Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands.

Sharapova, a two-time French Open winner, appeared to be cruising through her first round assignment when she claimed the opening set in 25 minutes and led 3-1 in the second.

However, the 30-year-old Russian lost five of the next six games as Hogenkamp levelled the match and then moved in to a 3-0 lead in the decider.

Sharapova rediscovered her form just in time to win five successive games to claim a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory and set up a second round clash with Croatia's Donna Vekic.

"I really dug deep but sometimes you need to go through these types of matches where things don't go the way you want," said Sharapova, who has not competed at the French Open since 2015 due to her 15-month doping suspension.

"Happy the way I came back in the third set. I'm so fortunate to be back in this position, I formed so many great memories here."

Garbine Muguruza won her battle of the former champions with Svetlana Kuznetsova as the Spanish world No 3 progressed to the second round.

Muguruza, who lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in 2016, prevailed 7-6, 6-2 in a rain-disrupted match against the 2009 champion, a claycourt expert very few would like to take on so early in the tournament.

"It is, so to speak, a second-week match," Muguruza said. "But this is going to reinforce me. It was a very good first round, and the fact that I won, although it was a very difficult match, it was a match against an expert. The last matches I have played, the results were difficult.

"And I think that I feel very encouraged by this kind of a match."