By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Serena Williams put aside her concerns about the air quality at Melbourne Park as she breezed into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday to remain on course for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title.
Buoyed by securing her first WTA title as a mother in Auckland two weeks ago, the 38-year-old American great kept her stay out on Rod Laver Arena to a minimum with a 6-0 6-3 trouncing of Anastasia Potapova in under an hour.
The air quality was officially rated good on Monday but Williams had not forgotten the choking smoke from Australia’s bushfires that greeted her when she arrived in Melbourne earlier this week.
“I definitely was concerned, and am. I think it changes every day,” the eighth seed told reporters.
“There is a lot of factors on how it can change. That is still a concern for pretty much everyone. Every day all the players and the tournament make sure that all the players are updated on what the play conditions would be like.
“It’s literally every day, we are just waiting every day to see how the air quality would be … Today, it seemed normal. Yeah, it seemed pretty good… It definitely felt like that.
Williams said she was particularly concerned because of the pulmonary embolism she suffered after giving birth to her daughter Olympia in 2017.
“I’m, like, ‘oh no, I’m already playing a little down than most people’,” she added.
“But we’ll see. Just have to focus on what happens and we’ll see what happens.”
The good news for Williams is that the outlook for the rest of tournament is promising, with the rain that has lashed Australia over the last few days helping contain the fires that have killed 29 people and millions of animals.
The rain also stopped play on the outside courts on Monday which means that Williams might have to wait another day to find out whether she plays Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek or South Korean wildcard Han Na-lae in the second round.
Her victory over Russian teenager Potapova to kickstart her 19th campaign at Melbourne Park was no great surprise given she has now lost only once in 74 first-round matches at Grand Slams.
“I felt like I started out really well, played really strong in the first set and just building on that,” she said.
“So, I feel like I can still improve and get better throughout this tournament, for sure. This is a good stepping stone for right now.”
An eighth title at Melbourne Park would bring Williams level with Australian Margaret Court as the most prolific Grand Slam singles winner in the history of the game — a feat she said had been on her mind.
“I think it’s factored a lot into my game, and now it’s just more or less about doing the best that Serena Williams can do,” she said.
“Margaret Court was a wonderful, great champion. And now how great is Serena Williams?
“That’s it. That’s kind of what I have been thinking about the last couple of weeks and months. It definitely helps me relax a lot.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)