Serena Williams launched her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a straight sets mauling of Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the Australian Open first round on Tuesday.
In an ominous warning to her rivals at Melbourne Park, the American took just 49 minutes to dismantle Maria 6-0, 6-2, justifying her status as bookies’ favourite to claim an eighth Australian title.
The 37-year-old won her 23rd major Down Under two years ago while eight weeks pregnant and is now attempting to match Margaret Court’s mark of 24 singles Slams on the Australian’s home soil.
“The last time I was here I was pregnant and playing at the same time, so it’s kind of weird walking back on by myself this time,” she said.
“I have so many good memories of the last time I was here. It was literally the best win of my career, so it’s just good to get back.”
It was Serena’s first outing on tour since her infamous meltdown at the umpire while losing the US Open final to Naomi Osaka in September.
The centre court crowd cheered when she walked out and she draw further applause when she took off her black warm-up jacket to reveal her outfit for the tournament — a one-piece green jumpsuit matched with fine mesh stockings.
Her demeanour was steely but calm, with her main interactions with the umpire coming when she struggled to hear the official during the pre-match toss.
Once play began she swatted aside her opponent with ease, making a mockery of her 16th seeding at this year’s tournament.
She won her first service game to love then effortlessly broke her opponent and went on to claim the first set 6-0 in just 18 minutes, blasting winners seemingly at will.
She eased up slightly in the second set against someone she described as “incredibly tricky”, with Maria snatching two games before succumbing to inevitable defeat.
It was small consolation for Maria, a neighbour of Serena’s at Palm Beach, Florida, who left the court in tears after the drubbing.
“I’m glad that I was able to come out and do what I needed to do,” said Serena, who will meet either Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard or Peng Shuai of China in the second round.
Serena’s 2017 triumph Down Under gave her the outright Open-era record for singles majors ahead of Steffi Graf’s 22, leaving only Court’s tally of 24 titles — 13 of which were earned in the amateur era before 1968 — for her to chase.