Serena Williams won her opening match at the French Open, and then achieved a career breakthrough by speaking French to the crowd for the first time.
”I’m a beginner,” Williams said – referring to her French, not tennis.
Her play spoke volumes Sunday. Williams returned to the red clay that tripped her up in the first round a year ago, channeled any lingering frustration into her overpowering strokes and – voila – drubbed Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1.
Roger Federer, the 2009 champion, remained unbeaten in first-round matches at major tournaments since 2003 by sweeping qualifier Pablo Carreno Busta 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. Sam Querrey, the highest-ranked American on the men’s tour, equaled his best showing at Roland Garros by reaching the second round when he beat Lukas Lacko 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Venus Williams lost in the event’s first round for the first time since 2001, beaten 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 by 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland.
Serena Williams lost her opening match at a Grand Slam tournament for the only time in her career a year ago, when she was beaten by France’s Virginie Razzano. That was the most shocking in a succession of losses for Williams at Roland Garros, where she hasn’t won the title since 2002 and hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2003.
”I just keep trying, and it hasn’t been working out for me,” she said. ”I may have gotten nervous in the past or may have basically choked a few matches away. Some matches I just lost because maybe I wasn’t intense enough, or maybe I didn’t do enough work before I got here.”
Determined to avoid another bad start, Williams won the first nine games against Tatishvili, and 30 of the first 37 points. There was no letup from there, and she was still pumping her fist and shouting ”Come on!” a game from the finish.
The No. 1-ranked Williams won 56 of 78 points, including 28 of 33 on her serve, and hit eight aces. She extended her winning streak to 25 consecutive matches, and since the loss to Razzano, she’s 68-3, including championships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Beginning her bid for a 16th Grand Slam title, Williams maintained a stern expression throughout the match, and allowed herself only a brief smile when Tatishvili pushed a forehand wide on match point.
Williams, who keeps an apartment in Paris, was then interviewed on center court and spoke French with only a slight accent.
”I have been speaking French for years and years, but I don’t really have a lot of confidence,” she said later in English. ”It’s way, way more nerve-racking than playing tennis.”
Federer also spoke French to the crowd, and also won easily. He lost only seven points on his first serve and was broken just once by Carreno Busta, a 21-year-old Spaniard was making his Grand Slam debut after winning seven consecutive Futures events.
”He has played a lot of matches on clay in comparison with me,” Federer said. ”I knew it could be tricky if I don’t sustain a certain level of play and certain aggressiveness and get caught up maybe in long rallies, maybe what he’s looking for. Overall I thought I did well.”
Others advancing on a chilly, gray first day of play included Sara Errani, the 2012 runner-up to Maria Sharapova, and 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic.
American Mallory Burdette, whose ranking has climbed to a career-best 80th from 142nd at the start of the year, made a successful Roland Garros debut by beating Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-4.
Burdette, a 22-year-old Stanford alum, said she has enjoyed learning how to play on clay.
”It’s a bit of a challenge,” she said. ”You have to change up your strategy a little bit, especially if you’re a big hitter. It takes a little bit of effort, but it’s fun.”
Dominant serving helped Querrey advance. He had been eliminated the first round at Roland Garros five times, and his only previous victory in the tournament came in 2011 on remote Court 7, where he played again Sunday.
”That’s the only court I can win on here,” he said with a smile. ”I played the best match I’ve played all year on any surface.”
Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt lost a seesaw marathon to No. 15-seeded Gilles Simon, 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5. No. 4 David Ferrer, a semifinalist last year, eliminated Marinko Matosevic 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
An hour into the tournament, Errani was into the second round. The tenacious Italian beat Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-2 in the opening match on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Errani reached a Grand Slam final for the first time a year ago at Roland Garros.
”Last year was an unbelievable tournament, the best tournament of my life,” Errani said. ”But I don’t want to think about that. I just want to come here and play another tournament. I try to concentrate on my tennis, not too much about last year.”
Now ranked a career-best No. 5, Errani dominated Rus from the baseline and won four games at love. Rus double-faulted seven times and lost her 13th consecutive match on the WTA Tour.
Ivanovic, seeded 14th, beat Petra Martic 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. Ivanovic improved to 30-4 in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments.