Williams makes light work of rival Sharapova at US Open
Serena Williams triumphed over Maria Sharapova in a US Open first-round contest as one-sided as their 15-year rivalry.
Williams, the 23-time grand slam champion, has now won 20 of their 22 meetings following a thumping 6-1 6-1 victory.
It was the pair’s first encounter since January 2016, and was all the more eagerly-anticipated after Williams pulled out of a scheduled meeting at last year’s French Open through injury.
Sharapova is nowhere near the player who beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final – and also won their next match the same year – but despite the scoreline she did not play at all badly.
The Russian, 32, got a healthy 73 per cent of her first serves in. One fierce cross-court winner on the run even had Williams applauding.
But Sharapova could barely lay a glove on Williams, who turns 38 this month and remains tantalisingly within touching distance of Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles.
Victory was wrapped up when a Sharapova return floated long after only 59 minutes.
Williams said: “Obviously I was going against a player who has won five grand slams so it was never going to be easy, and every practice after that was super intense because it was such a tough draw.
“She’s such a good player, and you have to be super focused, so every time I come up against her I have to play my best tennis.”
French Open champion Ashleigh Barty, seeded second, survived a scare after dropping the first set in double-quick time against Zarina Diyas.
The Australian, opening proceedings in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, eventually hit back to win 1-6 6-3 6-2.
“I just didn’t give myself a chance in that first set,” said Barty. “It was sort of appalling, I probably made a set’s worth of errors.”
Third seed Karolina Pliskova needed a pair of tie-breaks to get past Czech qualifier Tereza Martincova in the first match on Louis Armstrong.
Angelique Kerber was a surprise casualty, the 2016 champion storming back after losing the first set to Kristina Mladenovic, but then bowing out 7-5 0-6 6-4.
Kerber, last year’s Wimbledon winner, said: “I tried everything I could, and in the last 10 days I prepared as good as I can.
“This is tennis, this is sport, and we have to deal with this. I will deal with this as good as I can.”
Two-time champion Venus Williams eased through with a 6-1 6-0 victory over Chinese world number 38 Saisai Zheng.