'Hyped' Serena shines in first night session

 - Danielle Rossingh

Three-time former champion shakes off tense start to defeat Begu under lights in Paris

Serena WIlliams, Roland-Garros 2021 first round©️ Cédric Lecocq/FFT

No matter how many times we see it, it never gets old.

Faced with two set points in the first-set tiebreak against Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round at Roland-Garros on Monday, Serena Williams dug deep into her reserves. After taking four straight points, she let out a deep, guttural roar as she clinched the set.

During her long and illustrious career, the 23-time Grand Slam singles winner has made a habit of fighting back from difficult situations. But when she trailed 6-4 in the first-set tiebreak against the crafty Romanian, it seemed like she might be in trouble. Williams had come to Paris after all with a less than perfect build-up, losing early in Rome and Parma.

But that was when the real Serena Williams showed up, hitting two huge drive volley winners to win the tiebreak 8-6, before easing through the second set to secure victory.

“I'm happy that I was able to save those moments,” Williams, a three-time champion in Paris, told a news conference.

“Did not want to lose that first set. I wasn't thinking at that moment. I was just thinking to get that ball out the air, because I've been hitting some good swing volleys in practice.”

Although the playing schedule is very crowded this year due to the Tokyo Olympics, Williams never once contemplated skipping her least successful Grand Slam tournament.

“I’ve had enough rest in the past 16 months, so I should be totally ready to go for it,” said the former world No.1, who turns 40 in September.

During her on-court interview with Marion Bartoli, Williams was asked about a slogan, written in French, on her shoes: “Je ne m’arreterai jamais,” which means “I will never stop”.

“It’s just fun, really,” Williams said. “I usually never quit. It’s a Serena-ism.”

When asked about the shoes in her post-match press conference, Williams said she had been inspired by her favourite band, Green Day, and their 'Dookie' album.

“We went from there and put all my favourite things on there, some cool sayings that I say, people that mean a lot to me in my life, some cool art because I love art. It's almost like they're an art piece. There's very few of them. I am excited to have all of them,” she said.

Her victory over Begu, in the first-ever official night session at Roland-Garros, extends her stellar record in night matches on the sport’s biggest stages.

According to the US Tennis Association, Williams has won 44 out of 53 night matches at the US Open. And at the Australian Open, the American has won 14 of 15 matches played at night, across all courts, dating back to 2008, the women’s WTA said.

“Ironically enough night sessions are not my favourite matches, but I do have a good record at it,” said Williams. “Clearly something about it gets me hyped. I have to say it was pretty cool to be able to play the first night session ever here at Roland-Garros. That was something I thoroughly enjoyed.”

Williams continues her quest for a record-equalling 24th major singles championship against another skillful Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu. 

Williams won her last major title at the 2017 Australian Open. She has lost four Grand Slam singles finals since coming back from maternity leave in 2018.