Williams was facing the prospect of losing in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time in her career when Diatchenko took the initial set 6-2. However, the 37-year-old rallied to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-0 and keep alive her bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Williams' win came on a day when top seeds Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were victorious in the ATP bracket. Meanwhile, Kiki Bertens and Johanna Konta progressed in the WTA draw, while Caroline Wozniacki was eliminated.
Williams found herself under early pressure as Diatchenko made the more telling shots. The Russian had soon built a commanding enough lead to see out the set with the minimum of fuss.
It left Williams facing some unwanted history, while onlookers questioned the veteran's readiness to play:
Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg
First set to Vitalia Diatchenko, 6-2 over Serena Williams. #RG19 Serena has only lost in first round of a Grand Slam *once* in her entire career (2012 RG vs Razzano). She showed signs of life in that last game, but one wonders about her choice to play here if she wasn't ready.
Even though things looked bleak for Williams, history offered her some hope and provided an ominous warning to Diatchenko not to get too carried away:
So it proved as Williams reset herself in the second set and began overpowering her opponent. She raced into a 3-0 lead and had soon levelled the match.
Williams' comprehensive turnaround was reflected in the numbers:
The third set was even more one-sided, as Williams won without dropping a single game. Typically formidable power in the serve and an impressive range of shots showed any concerns about her conditioning and ability to move quickly across the clay in Paris were unfounded.
This was a defiant reminder of Williams' ability to still dominate the WTA.
Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg
After a concerning start (5 winners, 14 unforced errors in the first set), Serena Williams suddenly dominated, beating Vitalia Diatchenko 2-6, 6-1, 6-0. Her numbers were incredible in those last two sets: 20 winners, 10 unforced errors. Kept points short, striking early. #RG19
It's a well-timed warning to her rivals, especially with reigning champion Simona Halep set to take to the court for the first time on Tuesday.
Monday ATP Results
- (1) Novak Djokovic bt. Hubert Hurkacz: 6-4, 6-2, 6-2
- (2) Rafael Nadal bt. Yannick Hanfmann: 6-2, 6-1, 6-3
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bt. Peter Gojowczyk: 7-6(4), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
- Richard Gasquet bt. Mischa Zverev: 6-3, 6-4, 6-3
- (24) Stan Wawrinka bt. Jozek Kovalik: 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3
- (13) Borna Coric bt. Aljaz Bedene: 6-1, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4
- Pierre-Hugues Herbert bt. (12) Daniil Medvedev: 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5
- (21) Alex De Minaur bt. Bradley Kahn: 6-1, 6-4, 6-4
- Filip Krajinovic bt. (32) Frances Tiafoe: 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0
- Jan-Lennard Struff bt. Denis Shapovalov: 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-4
- (4) Dominic Thiem bt. Tommy Paul: 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2
Monday WTA Results
- (10) Serena Williams bt. Vitalia Diatchenko: 2-6, 6-1, 6-0
- (4) Kiki Bertens bt. Pauline Parmentier: 6-3, 6-4
- (8) Ashleigh Barty bt. Jessica Pegula: 6-3, 6-3
- (12) Anastasija Sevastova bt. Luksika Kumkhum: 6-1, 6-4
- Veronika Kudermetova bt. (13) Caroline Wozniacki: 0-6, 6-3, 6-3
- Kaia Kanepi bt. (18) Julia Gorges: 7-5, 6-1
- (26) Johanna Konta bt. Antonia Lottner: 6-4, 6-4
All results, per the tournament's official website.
It was also a winning start for Konta, who finally solved the puzzle at Roland Garros at the fifth time of asking. Konta saw off Antonio Lottner in a hard-fought straight-sets victory.
While Konta reversed her fortunes in Paris, Wozniacki's day took a negative turn after she slipped to a shock defeat against world No. 68 Veronika Kudermetova.
Wozniacki described how she has a lot of work ahead of her as she tries to regain her best form, per BBC Sport: "It hasn't been a great year for me so far, so I'm going to work hard and try and turn it around."
Marquee names made statements in the ATP bracket, with Nadal losing just three games during the first two sets. The 11-time winner wrapped up yet another dominant performance on clay with a 6-3 win in the third.
Nadal's bid to retain the title looks strong since the Spaniard is undeterred by the revamped courts at Roland Garros:
Christopher Clarey @christophclarey
Words to strike more fear in the hearts of all clay-courters: "We can talk about small differences but in terms of playing tennis, I think it is the same. The wind is coming the same way. Still a very, very big court. I don't see any difference playing tennis here" - Nadal
The one player likely to disrupt Nadal's grip on this tournament is Djokovic. He proved his credentials to usurp the "King of Clay" by easing past Hubert Hurkacz.
It wasn't plain sailing for Djokovic during the first set, but he eventually sealed a 6-4 win. The world No. 1 then eased through the gears to post back-to-back 6-2 triumphs.
Djokovic wowed the crowd with some superb shots:
Henri Laaksonen has the dubious reward of trying to end an awesome streak of 22 consecutive wins in Grand Slam matches when he faces Djokovic on Wednesday.