NEW YORK (AFP) – Serena Williams’ quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam got off the mark as Andy Murray rolled back the years with a vintage comeback at the US Open on Tuesday night.
Six-time winner Williams powered past 96th-ranked Kristie Ahn after Murray came from two sets down to win a five-set thriller in his first singles Slam match in 18 months.
The pair both progressed to the second round on day two of a US Open that is unrecognisable from previous tournaments, without spectators and with stringent measures to prevent COVID-19 infections.
Williams defeated Ahn 7-5, 6-3 as she started the latest bid of her protracted pursuit to match Margaret Court’s Grand Slam title with a straight-sets win at Flushing Meadows.
The 38-year-old overcame the loss of her first service game in the opening set to advance at a virtually empty Arthur Ashe Stadium, where artwork by black artists is displayed in honour of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice.
“I was really happy with how I just fought for every point no matter how I was playing,” said Williams.
It has been more than three years since Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open.
She has come close since, reaching four major finals only to come away empty-handed, but should have a better chance this time around with several top players absent because of coronavirus concerns or injury.
World number one Ashleigh Barty, the second-ranked Simona Halep and Canadian Bianca Andreescu – who stunned Williams in last year’s final – are all absent from the behind-closed-doors tournament.
A title win for Williams would also see her become the most decorated women’s player at the US Open in the modern era. She is currently tied with Chris Evert on six.
Murray secured a stunning 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 come-from-behind victory in a bruising four-hour-39-minute encounter against Japan’s 49th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka.
The Scotsman, who has barely played in 2020, said he had learnt a lot about his physical condition and the metal hip he received during surgery last year.
“I’ve just played a four-and-a-half hour match when I never thought I’d be able to,” he told reporters.
“I’m not sitting here with my hip throbbing and aching. I’ll be able to sleep fine tonight,” Murray added.
Tenth seed Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 French Open champion and 2017 Wimbledon winner, advanced to round two with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Japan’s Nao Havino.