Serena Williams secured her first singles win since last year’s French Open, surviving a hard-fought encounter with Nuria Parrizas Diaz to take a 6-3 6-4 win.
On a muggy, overcast day in Toronto, Williams was made to work hard against the battling Spaniard, never quite finding her true best despite redolent glimpses of her power serve and forehand.
It appeared that Parrizas Diaz might force a decider at several points in the second set, but a vital hold in what proved to be the penultimate game of the match ensured Williams’ place in the second round.
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“It wasn’t cold, it was cloudy, it was sunny, it was windy, but it was good,” Williams said afterwards of a day of uncertain weather.
“It’s great to be back in Toronto. I didn’t know if I would be able to play here again, this being one of my favourite stops on the tour.
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“I was really happy to be able to come out here again. It was really fun and really cool.”
Williams, playing on a hard court competitively for the first time since the 2021 Australian Open, began strongly with a confident hold, and broke her Spanish opponent at the first opportunity, but Parrizas Diaz struck back, working the angles well and drawing back on level terms.
The two shared a series of extended rallies, unable to force winners, before Williams broke again, using the depth of the court well to force Parrizas Diaz back and setting up a chance to serve for the set with a crisp backhand volley.
Roared on by a partisan North American crown, Williams eventually took the opportunity, surviving a break point to secure the fourth of her set points with an emphatic overhead.
But Williams’ game never quite fully clicked on a sultry late summer’s day, with the mobile Parrizas Diaz forcing the veteran to play long points and prevent her opponent building on the strength of her first serve.
The Spaniard has a reputation as a battler, fighting back from nearly being forced into premature retirement by a shoulder injury to reach the main singles draw at a major for the first time at the age of 30 at the US Open last year.
And she appeared at several points to be on the verge of what could have been a decisive break, letting four chances slip in a marathon eighth game of the second set eventually won by Williams after the ninth deuce.
It proved a costly missed opportunity. Williams moved to within a game of victory as she again cracked the Spaniard’s serve.
To the delight of the crowd, the encounter was not further prolonged as Williams came through in straight sets, the second set eventually decided in more than 70 minutes of hard-hitting back-and-forth tennis.
There were moments of ominous ball-striking from the 40-year-old as she worked into her flow, but Belinda Bencic lurks in the second round and the American will have to improve.
Bencic faces Czech qualifier Terez Martincova for a place in the last-32.
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Source: Euro Sports