PARIS (Reuters) - It says a lot about the ease of Serena Williams’s first round victory over Anna Tatishvili at the French Open on Sunday that the most testing part of her afternoon was conducting a courtside interview in French.
The top seed avoided the embarrassment of last year’s opening-round exit to book her place emphatically in the second round with a 6-0 6-1 victory that lasted 51 minutes and was less a contest and more an afternoon stroll in Paris.
The American, whose only singles title at Roland Garros came in 2002, entered the tournament on a 24-match winning streak and showed no signs of taking her foot off the gas as she steamrollered the 83rd-ranked Georgian.
Williams, chasing a 16th grand slam title, looked ominously smooth as she wrapped up victory in an unseasonably chilly Roland Garros, putting to bed the memory of her only first round loss at a slam, last year’s exit to France’s Virginie Razzano.
After her opponent sent a forehand wide on match point, she waved to all four sides of the stadium before embarking on the greater test of analyzing the match in a foreign language.
She had intended to do the same 12 months ago, she said, but the defeat to Razzano took away the opportunity.
“I have been speaking French for years and years, but I don’t really have a lot of confidence,” the 31-year-old told reporters.
“I just had to kind of jump in. Like once I get there and I get warmed up, I know how to say things and what I can speak. It’s just getting that confidence to speak in French. It’s way, way, more nerve‑wracking than playing tennis.”
Before the tournament began, Williams had explained that her main opponent in Paris could be “the lady in the mirror”, but the nerves were kept well in check during the short time she was engaged on court.
She bagged the first set in 20 minutes and never let her opponent find her feet on the clay.
Tatishvili didn’t register a mark on the scoreboard until the tenth game, 34 minutes into the contest - a feat that was greeted with a roar of approval from the opening day crowd.
”I was definitely nervous,“ Williams added. ”I have to say I‘m always a little nervous going into first‑round matches at slams, but this time I wasn’t as nervous as I was previously.
“For the most part, I felt pretty safe and felt good about my game and that if I can just do what I do in practice, I’ll be okay...”
Despite turning 30 Williams appears to be in her best shape for years and, after dropping only 14 games in five matches to take the Rome title this month, looks the favorite to get her hands back on the trophy after years of frustration in Paris.
”I just keep trying, and hasn’t been working out for me,“ she said. ”Just think I may have gotten nervous in the past or may have basically choked a few matches away.
“I faced some opponents that played well, but I have probably had opportunities and gave it away.”
Next in the firing line is France’s Caroline Garcia, a 19-year-old who pushed reigning champion Maria Sharapova close at Roland Garros two years ago.
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Martyn Herman