Serena wins on Grand Slam return

 - Kate Battersby

It's baby steps for new mother Serena Williams after grinding out victory over Kristyna Pliskova in round one.

Baby steps – that’s the advice to those in the early stages of a challenging journey. As one of the most famous women ever to return to work after giving birth, baby steps are precisely what three-time Roland-Garros champion Serena Williams took on her return to Grand Slam tennis, as she beat Kristyna Pliskova 7-6(4) 6-4.

Afterwards a positively radiant Serena chatted happily about new motherhood, the Royal Wedding and the form-fitting black catsuit she wore on court. But she left no doubt that her mind was on the upcoming excitement of returning to eight-month-old Alexis Olympia, after a whole working day apart from her daughter.

“I want to get home and see Olympia, because I have been here all day,” she explained. “Usually we hang out all the time, if I'm not practising. That’s the biggest difference being back at a Slam. I'm concerned how that's going to work out for me, because normally in Grand Slams, I do spend a lot of time at the site. She’s so young, I can’t really bring her.”

And the catsuit?

“I call it like my Wakanda-inspired catsuit,” she grinned, referencing the fictional nation at the heart of the global smash film Black Panther. “It's really fun and comfortable. I always wanted to be a super hero, and I feel like a warrior princess when I wear it.

“But its compression qualities also have post-partum functionality. God, I don't know how many blood clots I have had in the past 12 months. I have been wearing pants in general a lot when I play so I can keep the blood circulation going. So it’s fun but helps me play without problems.”

As for the match, her first French Open joust for two years was always unlikely to be a breeze. World No.70 Pliskova (the older-by-two-minutes twin of Karolina) has enjoyed victories this year over Petra Kvitova on Charleston’s green clay, and Julia Goerges on Nuremberg’s traditional red version just last week.

The lefty’s customary stream of aces made it difficult for her opponent to find any rhythm. But Williams, playing here under a special ranking, came through in one hour and 45 minutes, in her first match since falling in the third round in Miami to sister Venus two months ago.

Tougher tests lie ahead, not least in the second round here against No.17 seed Ashleigh Barty. The Australian herself is relishing the prospect. “I’m thinking just what an opportunity,” Barty said. “She's a genuine champion. What she's done to be able to get back after pregnancy, along with Vika [Azarenka] and a lot of the other girls, is pretty amazing.”

But by the very fact that Williams is out there again eight months after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia, hers is already an important victory.

Williams knows it, and bears the responsibility seriously. Not for nothing does her Twitter bio read: “Living, loving and working for you.” These days, that last “you” also refers to one person in particular.

“My priority is Olympia, no matter what,” she said, with an expression that puts the ‘serene’ into Serena. “I have given tennis so much, and tennis has given me a lot, and I couldn't be more grateful. She's my priority, and I work everything around her. Like I said, I want her to know that I really try to put her first in my life, along with God and my family. I feel like everything else will fall into place, and it has. It's all going to work out.”