Defending champion Serena Williams won her first match at the 2016 Australian Open over world No. 36 Camila Giorgi, 6-4, 7-5.
Even though she's the No. 1 player in the world and the odds-on favorite, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Williams on Monday.
It was her first tournament of the year after she withdrew from the Hopman Cup because of knee inflammation earlier this month. However, there didn't appear to be much rust in her game or soreness in her knee Sunday.
There was plenty of Twitter chatter once everyone realized Williams was playing at a high level, including this reaction from Dawn Rhodes of the Chicago Tribune:
Dawn Rhodes @rhodes_dawn
Bam. Serena's serve looks fine, mechanically. Just gotta be consistent. Giorgi will gobble up 2nd serves. 1-all. #AusOpen1/18/2016, 1:53:43 AM
Williams' serve impressed freelance tennis reporter Tumaini Carayol, while her overall game impressed Jonathan Newman of The Body Serve:
Tumaini Carayol @tumcarayol
Serena warmed into her first service game of 2016 by reaching 125mph on the serve. Looking decent between 9000 Giorgi double faults. *4-1.1/18/2016, 2:05:13 AM
Jonathan Newman @SportScribeCA
OK, so Serena looks pretty good so far.1/18/2016, 1:53:25 AM
Even though Williams looked good, she didn't look unbeatable after jumping ahead 4-1 in the opening set. Giorgi fought back with a break to get to 4-3 with Williams serving. The six-time winner of the Australian Open then turned it up a notch and won two of the final three games.
She showed emotion for the first time after a Giorgi unforced error in the final game of the first set produced set point. Williams then let out a yell after Giorgi returned her serve long to end the set. That was bad news for Giorgi, as Williams rarely loses in this tournament when jumping ahead early, per ESPN Tennis:
Serena serves out the opening set 6-4 vs Giorgi. The World No.1 is an incredible 56-2 at #AusOpen after winning the first set. #ESPNTennis1/18/2016, 2:31:06 AM
The second set proved to be harder for Williams as Giorgi seemed to get stronger as the match went on. Both held serve until Williams registered the first break at 6-5, eventually ending the match with a fierce ace.
Kate Salemme of the Herald Sun in Melbourne, Australia, correctly predicted Williams would turn it up a notch and win, though it took longer than she thought it would:
Kate Salemme @KateSalemme
Sublime work at the net from Serena Williams. Will make her move now (4-4) to take the set and the match #AusOpen1/18/2016, 3:12:08 AM
Rhodes gave her analysis on why Giorgi was able to keep the match close in the second set:
Dawn Rhodes @rhodes_dawn
Giorgi is getting some terrific gets and forcing Serena to hit another ball. Often, Serena is missing. 40-15. #AusOpen1/18/2016, 3:07:12 AM
While some may blame Williams' inability to put Giorgi away earlier on rust, it likely had more to do with the fact that the 24-year-old Italian was a formidable foe. She came in as the highest-ranked unseeded player in the tournament, and Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine noted that she is tough, just not tough enough to beat someone as good as Williams:
Full Dissident @hbryant42
Giorgi one of those mid-pack players whose firepower makes her tricky, but more variety is the difference b/t being a puncher and a player.1/18/2016, 3:23:31 AM
Williams wasn't perfect, but that was to be expected, considering it was her first real competition since a U.S. Open loss in September. She gave props to Giorgi after the match ended and said she had to shake off nerves for the victory, per the Australian Open:
Does Serena still get nervous? "Every single time. Every single match. I still get butterflies. I still want it" https://t.co/uym7i0r8x21/18/2016, 3:38:41 AM
Williams will face Su-Wei Hsieh in the second round as she tries to win her seventh Australian Open in the past 14 years.
Williams talked about her win after the match, saying it “wasn’t very easy,” according to the Australian Open:
Winning start for Serena at Australian Open 2016 https://t.co/RguAO46k241/18/2016, 3:40:00 AM
ESPN’s Chris McKendry was quick to give a shoutout to Williams' accomplishments after the match and not so subtly picked her as the favorite to win:
Chris McKendry @ChrisMcKendry
Grand Slams: Serena: 21 The Field: 20. Australian Opens: Serena: 6 Field: 3. Weeks At #1: Serena: 277 Field: 180. So, who u got?1/18/2016, 3:40:44 AM
Bryant noticed how Williams, who seemed to labor a bit in the middle of the second set, finished the match looking strong:
Full Dissident @hbryant42
ABC...Always Be Closing...Serena unreturned 15-0....Ace 30-0...Unreturned 40-0...Ace...GSM: Williams d. Giorgi 6-4, 7-5.1/18/2016, 3:35:05 AM
If Williams is healthy—and it appears she is—this tournament is hers for the taking. After she came so close to winning the calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015, winning in Australia would be the first step toward accomplishing the feat in 2016.