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Tennis Serena Williams returns to Australian Open with emphatic win

Serena Williams hits a return during an Australian Open match against Tatjana Maria, at Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 15, 2019.

LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters

Serena Williams jumped straight back in where she left off at the Australian Open, returning for the first time since winning the title in 2017 when she was pregnant with her first child.

Williams conceded only five points in the first set and was completely clinical in a 6-0, 6-2 win over Tatjana Maria, another mom who lives close to Williams in Florida and visits for play dates with their daughters.

It was overwhelming for Maria, who got just two of her first serves into play in the first set and didn’t have game points until she held in the fourth game of the second set. She was in tears as the pair hugged at the net following the match, and Williams joined the crowd in giving the German player a clap as she left the arena.

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“Yeah, I think the last time I was here, I was pregnant and playing at the same time – which is insane,” Williams said. “It’s kind of weird walking back on, by myself this time.”

Williams considers the 2017 victory here among the best of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles, giving everything that was going on. Since returning to the tour following the birth of Alexis Olympia, Williams hasn’t added to her list of majors, having lost the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

“Literally the best win of my career,” she recalled Tuesday in a post-match TV interview. “Just exciting to be back.”

At Melbourne Park, she’s now on an eight-match winning streak. She’s only lost one of her last 22 matches at the season-opening major, which she has won seven times.

The 37-year-old Williams said she loves to test herself early in the year after practising “hard for that first hit.”

“I like to jump into the deep end and swim,” she said.

The 16th-seeded Williams will face either Eugenie Bouchard or wild-card entry Peng Shuai in the second round.

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Madison Keys opened her season with a 6-2, 6-2 win over 18-year-old wild-card entry Destanee Aiava in the first match on Rod Laver Arena on Day 2.

“I expected it to be tough – obviously playing an Aussie on Rod Laver,” Keys told the crowd. “Thanks for the love, anyway.”

She broke Aiava’s serve four times and fended off the only breakpoint chance she faced. Aaiva, who was the first player born in this century to play in the main draw of a major when she got a wild card here in 2017, didn’t help herself with six double-faults.

The No. 17-seeded Keys has reached the semi-finals or better at three of the last five Grand Slam tournaments, and her focus is on the bigger prizes for now.

“I was having issues with my knee at the end of the year (and) ran out of time to be ready for Brisbane – wanted to be 100 per cent for here,” she said of her recent lack of competitive matches. “It’s my first match of the year, so mostly just happy I did everything pretty well.”

Seventh-seeded Karolina Pliskova won the Brisbane International title in the first week of the season and continued her streak by beating fellow Czech Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-2 to progress to the second round. No. 12 Elise Mertens and No. 21 Qiang Wang also advanced.

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Kei Nishikori is feeling a little bit liberated after having to come back from two sets down to beat Kamil Majchrzak in a difficult opener.

The eighth-seeded Nishikori won 10 consecutive games after losing the second set in a tiebreaker and took 15 of the last 17 games before Majchrzak retired with an injury with the score at 3-6, 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-2, 3-0 at Margaret Court Arena.

“He was playing amazing tennis,” Nishikori said. “I have to be happy going to the next round – I almost lost in the first round, so I have to be positive and get better.”

Among the other men advancing were Ryan Harrison, who beat Jiri Vesely 6-0, 7-5, 6-3, No. 12 Fabio Fognini and No. 15 Daniil Medvedev.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert beat Sam Querrey 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-1.

The temperature was already 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) when play began on all courts shortly after 11 a.m. local time and it rose to 33 C (91 F) by the early afternoon.

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