Serena Williams sends out a statement

 - Simon Cambers

Former world No 1 crushes Sharapova for loss of two games

Serena Williams waving to the crowd after her win against Maria Sharapova at the US Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Serena Williams has spent much of her life making statements but under the lights on Monday at the US Open, the former world No 1 sent out the clearest message imaginable. She is here to win.

Any doubts about Williams’ fitness after a recent back injury were blown out of the water in 59 minutes of the cleanest hitting as she smashed Maria Sharapova off the court in less than an hour for a 6-1, 6-1 victory.

“Her game really matches up well against mine"

It was perhaps her best effort since she returned in March 2018 after the birth of her daughter and her 19th straight win over the Russian who as so often in their rivalry over the years, was helpless. Twenty years after the first of her six US Open wins and just a few weeks shy of her 38th birthday, it was the kind of performance that will have sent shockwaves through the locker rooms.

“She’s such a good player, when you have play her you have to be super-focused,” a satisfied Williams said. “I just feel like her game really matches up well against mine. I always said her ball somehow lands in my strike zone. I don't know. It's just perfect for me.

“So every time I go up against her, it brings out my best. My back feels better, so I’m excited. This is going to be fun.”

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova at the US Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Exhibition of massive hitting

It is five years since Williams last lifted the title but just 12 months since she suffered a meltdown in the final against Naomi Osaka. But the motivation of getting the one grand slam title she needs to equal the all-time record of 24, held by Margaret Court, remains bright and on the evidence of Monday, she may get there sooner rather than later.

The pre-match entertainment on opening night lasted longer than the first set as Williams, dressed in a black cat-suit, tore into Sharapova from the start. Throwing herself into forehands like it was 1999, Williams held easily in the first game and immediately pressured Sharapova’s serve.

Sharapova, whose last win over Williams came in 2004 - the same year she beat her to win the Wimbledon title at the age of 17 - somehow held her own serve for 1-1 but from then on, it was an exhibition of massive hitting by the 23-times grand slam champion.

Maria dug in

Mike Tyson, Spike Lee and Alec Baldwin were all enthralled, as was Rod Laver, sitting courtside on the 50th anniversary of his second career grand slam, which he completed in New York. Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion, was on the back foot throughout.

Williams served within herself but cut loose off the ground, holding for 5-1 as she forced another error, before a net-cord winner gave her another break and the first set. When she broke in the opening game of the second set, things looked bleak for Sharapova, but as she has done throughout her career, she dug in, getting on the board with a hold to trail 2-1.

Her only chance to get back into the match came in the next game when she forced two break points at 15-40 but Williams saved the first with a good serve and then a second with a superb backhand pass, at full stretch. At 4-1, she saved three more break points and then broke Sharapova one more time to clinch victory.

Serena Williams portrait during her first round match at the US Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

One down, six to go

“I thought she served really well, didn’t feel like we got into too many rallies,” Sharapova said. “The 1-2 punch, she won the majority of those points, she hurt me a lot like that.

“It’s easy to be discouraged after a match like this (but) I have to keep going, there’s no other way. Bottom line is I believe in my ability, you can write me off, especially after going down 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of the US Open, but as long as it’s not the person inside of you (who’s writing you off), that’s OK.”

The reaction from Williams at the end was telling, too, a quiet fist-pump. Caty McNally, the young American is next. One down, six to go.