PARIS (AP) — This was one mistake too far for Serena Williams.
Sure, the bad backhand put her behind only 15-30 at the outset of the second set of her opening match at Roland Garros on Monday. What made the miscue so bothersome? She’d already dropped the first set against 83rd-ranked Vitalia Diatchenko — and Williams’ unforced error total already was at 15 on a windy evening.
So she reacted by throwing her head back and letting out a scream. Then she stepped to the baseline to serve and stomped her right foot. And simple as that, Williams righted herself: She won 11 of the next 13 points, and 12 of 13 games the rest of the way, to come back for a disappointing-to-dominant 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory at the French Open.
Williams arrived in Paris having withdrawn from each of her past two tournaments because of a balky left knee, and the one before that because of illness. She had played only nine matches all season, and so her pursuit of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title — fourth at Roland Garros — seemed no sure thing.
That goal seemed even further from her grasp with the way things began in Court Philippe Chatrier against Diatchenko, a Russian who hits two-fisted shots off both sides and upset Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon last year.
Williams arrived on court with a black-and-white jacket bearing words such as “champion,” ”queen,” ”goddess” and “mother” in French.
She made her return to Slam competition in Paris a year ago after missing five majors because of the birth of her first child. Williams pulled out before the fourth round because of an injured chest muscle, then was the runner-up at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
On Monday, she did not show obvious signs of her recent knee problem in the early going. But she didn’t look up to her best, either, by any means. Her movement wasn’t ideal, and she often reached for shots instead of thumping them.
Could the nearly impossible happen? Could Williams lose in the first round of a major? She’d only done so once before in 70 Slam appearances — and that lone defeat came at the French Open, in 2012.
But once Williams recalibrated everything, she took over. After 14 unforced errors in the first set alone, she had six in the second, four in the third. Her winner count went the other way: from five in the first set to nine in the second to 11 in the third.
Diatchenko sat at changeovers with a towel covering her head, as if embarrassed to be seen there.
Earlier on Day 2 of the clay-court tournament, Caroline Wozniacki went from playing a perfect set to quickly fading away against an opponent who had never previously won a Grand Slam match.
In a performance emblematic of a difficult season, Wozniacki, a former No. 1 and last year’s Australian Open champion, lost in the first round 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 to 68th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.
“Definitely wasn’t the best match I’ve ever played,” said the 13th-seeded Wozniacki, who had only 15 winners to Kudermetova’s 40.
The way-up-then-way-down showing by Wozniacki stretched her losing streak to four matches and dropped her 2019 record to 9-8.
Another past Grand Slam champion dropped out of the field when two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova withdrew because of an injured left forearm.
The left-hander said the arm had been bothering her for some time and during practice Sunday, “suddenly I felt the pain.”
“I went to have an MRI, and, yeah, unfortunately I have a tear in my forearm, which is not great,” said Kvitova, who hopes to be ready for the start of Wimbledon on July 1.
In other action, Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record 12th championship in Paris and Novak Djokovic got started on his quest for a fourth consecutive major trophy with easy wins.
Nadal was a bit shaky in the very first game against 184th-ranked German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, facing four break points, but he saved them all — and didn’t face another the rest of the way for a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 victory.
Nadal’s feared forehand was not at its dangerous best, accounting for more unforced errors (11) than winners (nine).
“I had my match plan and, yeah, some of the things, they didn’t work out well,” said Hanfmann, who played college tennis at Southern California. “But, I mean, that’s why he’s as good as he is.”
Djokovic also needed under two hours to reach the second round, running his Grand Slam winning streak to 22 matches by getting past 44th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
But No. 32 seed Frances Tiafoe of the U.S., a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in January, threw up a couple of times and his game came apart late in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 loss to Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.
“Obviously very depleted and had nothing really in me,” said Tiafoe, now 0-4 at Roland Garros.
Other seeded players on the way home included No. 12 Daniil Medvedev, who was eliminated 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 by Pierre-Hugues Herbert and No. 15 Nikoloz Basilashvili on the men’s side, along with No. 18 Julia Goerges on the women’s.