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On a day of major upsets at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, the underdogs prevailed, seeing off seeds Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Sofia Kenin, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, and Maria Sakkari in a procession of upsets at the Foro Italico in Rome.

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Williams sisters get off to a good start

The Williams sisters, who have dominated the game for decades, both opened their Australian Open campaigns with confident wins, putting in vintage performances against quality opponents.

[Venus] She’s such an inspiration because she never gets frustrated about her situation, health-wise. She’s always looking on the bright side. Then she works so hard... It’s also very inspiring because she still pushes me on a level that no one’s able to push me, so it was incredibly helpful. Serena Williams

In the 100th AO match of her career, Serena needed just 56 minutes to dispatch Germany’s Laura Siegemund to reach the second round, while her older sister Venus Williams also picked up a straight-set win over Kirsten Flipkens from Belgium.

39-year-old Serena, who wore a one-legged catsuit that she says is a tribute to the former sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner, zipped through Siegemund, 6-1 6-1, on Rod Laver Arena in what was a vintage start to fulfilling her hopes of clinching her record-tying 24th Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

Astonishingly, Serena has a nearly flawless record in first-round matches at Grand Slam events over her career, an astounding 76-1.

The 7-time Australian Open winner withdrew from her Yarra Valley Classic semi-final against Ash Barty on Friday due to a shoulder problem, but she showed few signs of concern, despite admitting to feeling more ‘comfortable’ in the warm-up event.

“I was happy just to get through it,” she said in her post-match press conference. “Wasn’t sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it’s feeling good, I’m feeling good. So it felt really good.

“I felt really comfortable in the tournament leading up to this just a couple days ago when I was playing. I actually didn’t feel that comfortable today, so… Interestingly enough.”

Meanwhile, Venus, her hitting partner in the Australian quarantine bubble, also proved victorious over Kirsten Flipkens, 7-5 6-2, in what was a record 88th Grand Slam singles appearance.

Serena praised her 40-year-old sibling, saying: “She’s such an inspiration because she never gets frustrated about her situation, health-wise. She’s always looking on the bright side. Then she works so hard.

“Yeah, she’s been great. We were hitting partners for the first two weeks, two and a half weeks, since we were here in Australia. It was so good to train with her. It was so good every day.

“It’s also very inspiring because she still pushes me on a level that no one’s able to push me, so it was incredibly helpful.”

The former World No 1, seeded 10th this year, is contesting a milestone 20th AO, and her 56-minute win over Siegemund was her 100th career match at the event.

She now holding an 88-12 win-loss record at the tournament and has played and won more matches than any other woman in the tournament’s history.

Siegemund broke Williams in the first game of the clash, but the American exacted immediate and long-lasting revenge, winning 10 games on the run from there to open up a 6-1, 4-0 lead.

She went on to finish the encounter with 16 winners, four times her opponent’s total, and converted 6 of her 9 break points against the 2020 Roland Garros quarter-finalist.

Serena lines up a second-round meeting with Nina Stojanovic, ranked 99, after the Serb defeated Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, 6-3 6-4.


Venus Williams, who at 40 is making records of her own, got past Kirsten Flipkens in her opening match at Melbourne Park

© Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Venus took 92 minutes to get past Flipkens on Margaret Court Arena, taking their rivalry to 3-2 in her favour.

“Winning is always fun,” Williams said after her win. “Never easy. She’s definitely tricky. We’ve had some great battles in the past, as well.”

Both players used aggressive serving in the tense first set, but Williams ultimately stormed back from a break down at 4-3 to eke out the opener.

The two-time Australian Open finalist had far less trouble in the second as she swept to a second-round match against Italy’s Sara Errani, who upset the No 30 seed Wang Qiang on Monday.

“I’m trying to get better every day,” said Williams. “I think that no matter what happens to you in life, you always hold your head up high, you give a hundred million percent.

“That’s what I do every single day. That’s something that I can be proud of.”

Venus has now has played in the 88th Grand Slam main draw of her career, a lead stat in the Open Era that begain in 1968, and holds a healthy lead over the second-placed woman, her sister Serena.

Venus thinks that Serena is ‘the best player to hit with’.

“You definitely don’t want to miss because it’s your sister, so you want to give her a good practice. Also her intensity level just raises your level,” she said.

“We definitely had some good practices. I think it definitely helped both of us.”


Naomi Osaka was a comfortable winner over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, losing just 2 games on Day 1 of the Australian Open

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka, the No 2 and 3 seeds, had comfortable wins but there were still shocks on the opening day as 23rd seed Angelique Kerber was knocked out by Bernarda Pera.

Halep dispatched Australia’s LizetteCabrera, 6-2 6-1, showing no signs of the recent back issue, while Osaka breezed past the sometimes dangerous Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-1 6-1.

Osaka, the reigning US Open champion, was simply too hot to handle for the Russian.

“It’s always really hard to play someone that good in the first round,” Osaka said. ”Yeah, I would say definitely I was really nervous today.

“I couldn’t really sleep last night. So I think for me that’s normal. I can’t sleep during, like, before finals.

’Yeah, so definitely I was nervous. I kind of expected that because I always want to do well in slams. I never want to lose in the first round.”

Kerber, the 2016 champion, became a major early casualty of the tournament after suffering a 6-0 6-4 defeat to America’s Pera.

The German 23rd seed, who has won 3 Grand Slam titles, admitted she got off to a slow start after being one of the 76 players placed in hard quarantine .

“Definitely, yes. I mean, of course I was really trying to staying positive and doing the best out of the two-week situation,” said Kerber, 33. “But, of course, you feel it, especially if you play a real match where it counts and you play the first matches in a Grand Slam, also against an opponent who doesn’t stay in the hard lockdown.

“I was feeling this at the beginning, that of course my balls are always a little bit out and I was not feeling the rhythm that I was before the two weeks, to be honest.

Asked if she felt the long trip was worth it, given the end result, Kerber replied: ‘First of all, I mean, Australia is doing a really good job.

“Now when you are free, you go outside, everything is open. Of course, it feels like a normal life, let’s say.

“But when I’m looking back, of course I was not planned the two weeks hard quarantine.

“I don’t know, maybe if I knew that before to stay really two weeks in the hard quarantine without hitting a ball, maybe I would think twice about that.”


3-times Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber was the first high-profile seed to fall at the hands of Bernarda Pera on the opening day of AO21

© Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images


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