For a moment, it appeared as if four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams might suffer a first-round loss at the French Open.
That moment didn't last long.
Williams, 37, dropped the first set against Russia’s Vitalia Diatchenko 6-2 Monday but roared back in the next two sets, winning 6-1, 6-0 to advance to the round of 64. She leads a contingent of nine U.S. women who made it through the opening test of the clay court Grand Slam tournament that started on Sunday.
Williams, who is looking for her 24th Grand Slam singles win and her first since becoming a mom, had suffered both ankle and knee injuries and illness since the Australian Open in January and admitted to having nerves and “concrete blocks” on her feet when the match opened, but then her serve returned and the fire that’s sparked many a comeback for Williams took hold. Diatchencko upset Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon last year, but Williams was able to deny that effort Monday and also avoid the same fate as sister Venus Williams, who was ousted in the first round.
Of Serena Williams’ 23 Grand Slam wins, only three have come at Roland Garros. Williams, seeded No. 10, owns the Open Era record for Grand Slam victories and is looking to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 victories.
Joining Williams in the round of 64 is 2017 US Open champion and No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens, who defeated Japan’s Misaki Doi 6-3, 7-6 (4).
Madison Keys, seeded No. 14, was one of the last women to play on Tuesday. She faced Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina and cruised along with a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Also moving on are Jennifer Brady, who beat Serbia’s Ivana Jorovic, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-5; 2014 Youth Olympian Sofia Kenin, who defeated Italy’s Giulia Gatto-Monticone, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2; Danielle Collins, who beat Germany’s Tatjana Maria, 6-0, 6-2; Shelby Rogers, who defeated Australia’s Astra Sharma, 6-3, 6-3; Lauren Davis, who beat Czech Republic’s Kristyna Pliskova, 6-2, 6-4; and Amanda Anisimova, who upended France’s Harmony Tan, 6-3, 6-1.
Venus Williams was among eight American women who went out in Round 1, the others being Madison Brengle, Olympian Varvara Lepchenko, Jessica Pegula, Bernarda Pera, Alison Riske, Anna Tatishvili and Taylor Townsend.
On the men’s side, 21-year-old Taylor Fritz is the only U.S. man remaining after the first round. His compatriots all fell to their opponents in the round of 128, but Fritz’s 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Australia’s Bernard Tomic lifted him into the second round. Fritz has spent the past eight weeks playing on clay.
Olympian Sam Querrey, who was due to face Spain’s Pedro Martinez in the opening round, instead was forced to withdraw due to abdominal issues. Querrey represented the U.S. at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 and made both the Wimbledon semifinals and US Open quarterfinals two years ago but had never advanced past the third round at the French Open.
The eight U.S. men who went out in the first round are Olympian Steve Johnson, Bradley Klahn, Denis Kudla, Mackenzie McDonald, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, Tennys Sandgren and Frances Tiafoe.