Tennis-Serena advances in Toronto, joins Rybakina and Halep in second round


FILE PHOTO: Jun 28, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Serena Williams (USA) during her first round match against Harmony Tan (FRA) on day two at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

TORONTO (Reuters) -Three-times winner Serena Williams moved into the Toronto Open second round with a 6-3 6-4 win over Spain's Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Monday while Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Simona Halep also advanced.

Williams, in her second singles match since returning to action at Wimbledon in June after a year-long absence from competition, was forced to dig deep during a nearly two-hour match played in hot and humid conditions.

"Mentally I feel I'm getting there. I'm not where I normally am and I'm not where I want to be," Williams told reporters.

"Physically I feel much better in practice, it's just like getting that to the court. But literally I'm the kind of person who it just takes one or two things and then it clicks. So I'm just waiting on that to click."

One of 14 major winners in the main draw of the WTA 1000 event, a tune-up for the U.S. Open, Williams clinched the opener on her fourth set point with a vintage smash that Parrizas Diaz had no chance of returning.

The second set was a much tighter affair and Williams did well to hold serve in a physically demanding 18-minute game during which she fought off four break points to get to 4-4 before sealing her first singles win since the 2021 French Open.

"It's just one win, you know, it takes a lot. But I was happy, like I said, to have a win," said Williams. "It's been a very long time. I forgot what it felt like."

Up next for Williams will be either Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, the 12th seed, or Czech Tereza Martincova.

WINNING RETURN FOR FERNANDEZ

U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez marked her return to the Tour with a 6-4 6-7(2) 6-3 victory in two hours and 41 minutes over Australian Storm Sanders.

The 19-year-old Canadian was unable to convert two match points in the second set but held her nerve to close out the match - her first since she fractured her right foot during the French Open quarter-final defeat.

"I have no words, I'm just super happy to be able to play here in front of my home crowd, in front of Toronto, in front of my family," Fernandez said on court.

Two-time major winner Halep, who retired from her second-round match last week in Washington due to illness, needed just 61 minutes to secure a 6-0 6-2 win over Croatia's Donna Vekic.

"It's not about the result it's more about how I played," said the former world umber one, who did not face a single break point. "I've been very aggressive and I played fast so that's my goal and I am trying to do that every day."

Kazakh Rybakina, who followed her Wimbledon triumph with a first-round exit at San Jose last week, defeated Czech Marie Bouzkova 7-5 6-7(3) 6-1 for her first win as a Grand Slam champion.

In an all-American battle of former major winners, Sloane Stephens was cruising 6-2 5-1 against Sofia Kenin before the 2020 Australian Open champion launched a spectacular fightback to save five match points across the last two sets.

Former U.S. Open champion Stephens finally won the rain-interrupted contest 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5 to set up a meeting with third-seed Maria Sakkari of Greece.

Former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko also advanced to a second round meeting against American Alison Riske-Amritraj, who beat two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova 6-2 4-6 6-3.

Multiple major champion Venus Williams, 42, failed to join her sister in the second round, going down 6-2 6-3 to Switzerland's Jil Teichmann in the day's final match, which started around midnight in a near-empty stadium.

(Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai and Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford)

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