2021 French Open – Serena Williams lights up the tournament’s very first night session
When Roland Garros added night sessions to its schedule for the first time this year, Roland Garros organizers knew they would need a star for opening night.
Come on, Serena Williams.
Although there were no supporters allowed inside the Court Philippe Chatrier stadium on Monday evening, due to the 9 p.m. curfew in Paris aimed at tackling the spread of COVID-19, Williams lit up a warm early summer evening with a 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory over Irina-Camelia Begu from Romania, world No. 74.
“I have to say it was pretty cool to be able to play the first night session in history here at Roland Garros,” she said afterwards. “It was something that I really enjoyed.”
The 23-time Grand Slam champion had to work for it, saving two set points in the first set tiebreaker, but she withdrew in the second to reach the second round.
Initially, there were rumors that the French Tennis Federation planned to fill the 10-night sessions with a men’s match each night, although this was denied by Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget.
Forget told ESPN on Monday that Williams was the perfect fit for showcasing the new time slot.
“When we created the program, we had several options,” said Forget. “This seemed to us symbolically the strongest and the most interesting to initiate this first evening session. We are happy to welcome Serena for this historic occasion.”
Watching Williams win the night is nothing new.
According to the USTA, at the US Open – where she is a six-time champion and won a record 106 games – Williams played 53 official night games and won 44.
And at the Australian Open, where Williams has won the title seven times, she has won 14 of her 15 games played overnight, on all courts, since 2008, the WTA said.
“Ironically enough, the night sessions are not my favorite games, but I have a good track record,” she said on Monday. “It is clear that something about this makes me very passionate.”
Compared to the electric atmosphere Williams is used to at the US Open – with the exception of 2020 – Monday’s fixture in Paris was understandably flat, with the noise of the player support teams being the only sound other than that. of the racket on the ball.
But Williams, dressed in lime green, with matching shoes – sporting a number of messages including one in French – “i will never stop, “which translates to” I’ll never give up “- given the lack of atmosphere. Her performance greatly improved her efforts in her two warm-up events, in Rome and Parma, where she only won only one match.
Although Williams has won the title in Paris three times, in 2002, 2013 and 2015, clay has always been his hardest surface. It’s a surface that gives opponents the ability to chase balls that might otherwise be winning on faster hard courts or on grass.
She reached the final in 2016, losing to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, but since returning to the Tour in 2018 after the birth of her daughter, Williams has not passed the last 16 in Paris.
And Begu made it difficult. Williams served for the opening set at 5-3 but couldn’t close it, and Begu won three straight games to lead 6-5, only to falter when Williams forced a tie-breaker.
At 6-4 in the tie-break, the Romanian had two set points, but that’s when the 39-year-old Williams showed her courage, saving both, the second with a superb volley. ‘training. She then won the set two points later with another practice end, eliciting a characteristic roar from Williams.
Williams, who is still chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title, then burst early in the second set and won a long sixth game before finishing things off.
On Tuesday, Novak Djokovic will take center stage in the night session, with the world No. 1 starting against American Tennys Sandgren.
The Serb highlighted his own good record in the night sessions and said he looked forward to it, although he didn’t know it would be behind closed doors.
“The only thing is I’m a little sad that there isn’t a crowd,” he said after finding out. “Playing in front of an empty stadium in a Grand Slam won’t be fun. Hopefully I can win the game and then meet a crowd in the next round.”
Forget said the 10 nightly sessions, including a June 9 game that will be played in front of 5,000 fans, will transform the tournament.
“The nightly sessions are the big news this year,” he said. “We will discover another Roland Garros, another face.”