Serena and Venus Williams successfully opened their 2019 clay season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, setting up their 31st career meeting in the second round of the Premier 5 tournament.
Playing her first match since March and just ninth this season, the tenth-seeded Serena, who has won Rome four times, most recently in 2016, recorded a routine 6-4 6-2 win over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson.
The first to take the lead in the match was the world No.64 Peterson, 3-1, after saving break points in her first two service games. The 37-year-old Williams then began to take control, winning five of the next six games to take the first set and then converting two out of two break point opportunities to take the second set, which she closed out by serving two aces and saving two break points in her final service game.
This season, Serena played only one complete tournament, the Australian Open, where she reached the quarterfinals, while from the BNP Paribas Open she retired ill midway through her third-round match against Garbine Muguruza and from the subsequent Miami Open she withdrew because of a knee injury after playing and winning just one match, interestingly, against Peterson, her today’s opponent in Rome.
Addressing her time away from the tour, which included socializing with the world’s elite at the Met Gala, Serena stated:
I haven’t been able to train or practice a lot. I was out much longer than I expected. But I did everything I could to stay fit and to keep my cardio up. I knew that I love the clay season and I wanted to be a part of it.
Wildcard Venus Williams, who clinched the title in Rome exactly 20 years ago, needed more than three hours and nine match points to finally defeat Belgian Elise Mertens 7-5 3-6 7-6(4).
Serena’s and Venus’ clashes are not a rare sight, although, their last encounter on European clay was nearly 17 years ago. The sisters have already faced each other in Rome, but it was all the way back in the 1998 quarterfinals, which was their second career meeting. Commenting on that 1998 match, Serena said:
I vaguely remember that, so I don’t really remember. … We play each other a lot. Seems like every tournament nowadays we meet early. It is what it is.
The head-to-head record is in Serena’s favor, 18-12.