Serena Williams’ quest for a record-equalling 22nd grand slam title has just been made much easier, with two of her most dangerous rivals exiting the French Open.
As the defending champion opened her title defence with a crushing 6-2 6-0 win over Magdelena Rybarikova of Slovakia in just 42 minutes, things didn’t work out so well for Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka.
Kerber, the Australian Open champion, shockingly lost to 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, 6-2 3-6 6-3.
And former world No.1 Azarenka, bowed out in the first round, too, withdrawing because of an injured right knee while trailing 4-0 in the third set against Karen Knapp of Italy.
Williams could have faced Azarenka in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Kerber in the semifinals.
A win in this tournament would equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of grand slams won, and the American superstar wishes Rybarikova gave her a more competitive encounter.
“It was a little short for me, but I think in my career, if I don’t have it by now, I need to look into something different. So I’m OK – I’m OK with that,” said Williams, who took the last 10 games.
Azarenka’s knee buckled in the sixth game of the second set, and she started grimacing and limping. After the first point of the next game, she went to the sideline and requested medical attention.
She managed to pull out the second set, but she eventually decided not to continue.
“I started to feel a sharp pain in my knee. I’ve had an injury there before, a while ago, but it hasn’t been a problem until today,” Azarenka said, explaining: “It got worse as the match went on.”
Kerber also had an injury to contend with in her defeat, in her case to her shoulder.
“I’m disappointed that I lost the first round here … that was for sure not my best tennis I played today,” the dejected 28-year-old, who took a medical time out in the third set, said.
“I tried to fight but she played good then in the important moments.”
Elsewhere, Venus Williams also won in straight sets, avoiding a second consecutive first-round Grand Slam loss.
She spent a lot more time on court than her sister, needing nearly two hours to get past 82nd-ranked Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-4).
And organisers were left red-faced after the Roland Garros crowd was told of the retirement of former champion Francesca Schiavone after her 6-2 6-4 loss to Kristina Mladenovic.
There was only one problem. The retirement was news to her.
Roland Garros’s Twitter feed carried the announcement. The tweet was quickly deleted, but several reporters asked Schiavone about it after the match.
“Roland Garros announced my retirement, but I didn’t,” Schiavone told them. “So you can stand up, all of you, and go back to work in the office, because I didn’t say that.
“It was not the last one for me.”