PARIS (Reuters) – The “warrior princess” inside Serena Williams came out in full fighting mode at the French Open on Thursday as the American proved she was no pushover when it came to making an impact in a Grand Slam arena.
The rankings show Williams is only the 451st best player in the world and her nine-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia will need a few years to appreciate what her mum’s day job is.
But anyone foolish enough to think motherhood would kill off Williams’ competitive edge got a reminder of why the 23-times Grand Slam champion is one of the all-time greats as she clawed her way to a 3-6 6-3 6-4 second round win over Ashleigh Barty.
A set and a break down, it looked like Williams’ comeback slam following her maternity break would end in defeat by the 17th seeded Australian.
But when Serena slammed a crosscourt forehand winner into an open court to break back in the next game, the roar that rocked Philippe Chatrier Court told the world she was not done yet.
So it proved just over an hour later as Serena was roaring again and holding her arms aloft in triumph after setting up a third round showdown with Germany’s 11th seed Julia Goerges.
“I lost the first set and I thought I’ve just got to try harder and Serena came out,” said a beaming Williams after giving her skin-tight, black catsuit another outing. “Every day is a great day I’m excited to… fight my heart out.”
Barty was pragmatic about the way things played out, rather than moaning about her rotten luck at being drawn against the three-times Roland Garros champion so early in the tournament or feeling she had wasted a golden chance to beat Williams.
“In the first set she gave me a hell of a lot of cheapies, a lot of errors,” said the 25-year-old Australian who had secured her highest ever seeding at a major in Paris.
“She’s not quite at the level she was when she was at her best but that’s expected. But her level when she’s not quite on her best (form) is still bloody good.
“When push came to shove, the real Serena came out. And one of her best assets is that when her back is against the wall, the best comes out.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris