LONDON — Serena Williams began her first-round clash at Wimbledon in complete comfort, but ended it screaming in delight as she finally suppressed Giulia Gatto-Monticone having been dragged into an unlikely dogfight by the world number 161.
The Italian qualifier, who was making only her second Grand Slam appearance at the age of 31 having amassed a relatively modest $300,000 in prize money throughout a pedestrian career, was eventually subdued 6-2 7-5.
But she put the seven-times champion through her paces, testing the injuries that have limited the American to seven matches since the Australian Open in January.
Williams was rusty by her own admission, but a series of wayward shots that allowed the Italian to profit despite her obvious limitations did not dampen the American’s delight at simply finishing the encounter feeling fit and healthy.
The knee injury that has plagued her, and contributed to a third-round exit at Roland Garros, did not rear its head, giving Williams hope that her form would shortly return too.
Yet she needs matches and fast — to the extent that she is considering playing mixed doubles with Britain’s twice Wimbledon champion Andy Murray in an effort to get back to her best.
“I think right now I have to have every match count, like 10 matches, because I haven’t had a ton of matches this year,” Williams told reporters.
Gatto-Monticone came from the other side of the tennis tracks to the American, having only played one previous match against a top-20 player and never beaten someone ranked higher than 102.
Yet her staying power against the 23-times Grand Slam singles champion, who has amassed nearly $89 million in prize money, gave the fans on Centre Court a contest they could not have expected.
Gatto-Monticone, whose career is remarkable only for the late age at which she finally made a breakthrough, seemingly enjoyed her moment in the limelight.
Her story, said Williams, is a “great tale” of the value of persistence.
“It’s nice because no matter where you are, you don’t want to give up... Doesn’t matter what age you are, whether you’re 15 or in your early 30s, you still have a chance to be great at whatever you do,” the world number 10 said.
“She really took it to me today. She’s had some really good, strong matches in the past few months. Honestly, it’s a good thing to see.”
Next up for the former world number one will be a second-round clash against Kaja Juvan, a highly-rated 18-year-old prospect from Slovenia who showed off her potential with a 6-4 2-6 6-4 win over Kristyna Pliskova.
Nadal pushes on
Rafael Nadal has had more than enough nasty surprises at Wimbledon down the years so when he fell on the seat of his pants on the first point against Japan’s Yuichi Sugita on Tuesday he might have feared the worst.
When the third seed then lost 11 points in a row against the 30-year-old qualifier to trail 0-2 0-40 on Court One in his first grasscourt match for a year the alarm bells were ringing.
Thankfully for the 33-year-old, Sugita was no Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, or Dustin Brown — all of whom have hijacked the Spaniard’s attempt to add a third Wimbledon title with spectacular first-week shocks.
A shaken Nadal quickly recovered his equilibrium to post a comprehensive 6-3 6-1 6-3 victory.
Apart from the smattering of Japanese fans cheering on the admirable 274th-ranked Sugita, it was the result that 99.9% of people following the Championships desired.
It set up a mouth-watering second-round clash with Australian bad boy Nick Kyrgios — the potential grudge match everyone has been talking about since last Friday’s draw.
Kyrgios famously blew Nadal off court in the fourth round in 2014, since when his wild on-court behavior has attracted more headlines than his often mind-boggling tennis.
Nadal has simply added to his Grand Slam haul since then, making it 18 last month at Roland Garros, a place he reveres but which Kyrgios said “sucked” in a recent social media video when he also accused the Spaniard of being “super salty” in defeat.