Serena advances to second round in Toronto

TORONTO — Three-time winner Serena Williams moved into the National Bank 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 only her second singles match since returning to action at Wimbledon in June and losing to Harmony Tan after a yearlong 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 an event that is a tune-up for the US 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 used her power to fight off four break points to get to 4-4.

Williams then broke her opponent after Parrizas Diaz sent a backhand wide and went on to serve out the match for her first singles victory 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,” Williams said. “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.

Romanian 15th seed 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.

Halep breezed through the first set in 21 minutes and never looked back as Vekic grew more frustrated as the match wore on.

“It’s not about the result, it’s more about how I played,” Halep, who did not face a break point, said during her on-court interview. “I’ve been very aggressive and I played fast so that’s my goal and I am trying to do that every day.”

Halep, who won her two Canadian titles when the event was held in Montreal in 2016 and 2018, awaits either China’s Shuai Zhang or Spanish qualifier Cristina Bucsa in round two.

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

Next up for Kazakh Rybakina will be a clash with either American 10th seed Coco Gauff or Madison Brengle.

Canadian 13th seed Leylah Fernandez will kick off the night session in Toronto against Australian Storm Sanders before Venus Williams meets Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann.

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