Serena Williams: during practice at Flushing Meadows

By Agency Reporter

Serena Williams scaled the first hurdle towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title on Tuesday by defeating Kristie Ahn 7-5 6-3 in the first round of the U.S. Open.

The 38-year-old showed signs of nervousness early on, double-faulting twice to hand her opponent the first game before going 2-0 down after a routine hold from Ahn.

But Williams fought back, winning three straight games before breaking Ahn’s serve to close out the first set.

Ahn broke the third seed’s serve to start the second but Williams quickly found her footing.

She fired off 13 aces and 28 winners during the match while harnessing her powerful return to keep her opponent on the run.

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A final serve forced Ahn into an error as Williams claimed a record 102nd U.S. Open match victory.

It was her first straight sets win since the sport returned from the COVID-19 shutdown.

Williams, who next faces Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, later told reporters she struggled to find her rhythm at first as Ahn displayed impressive versatility.

“She really strikes the ball really hard. She mixes up a lot. She plays a lot of the different shots,” said Williams.

“You don’t really know what to expect.”

In typical fashion, Williams used her powerful serve to gain the advantage, winning 85 percent of her first serve points with a fastest serve of 124 mph.

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Williams, who reached the final of the U.S. Open in her last two campaigns, is gunning for her first Grand Slam title since 2017.

The title will enable her match Margaret Court’s record.

The competition this year has a depleted field of top 10 players. Six of them are not competing, because of COVID-19 concerns.