5:40 PM ET
ESPN News Services
Serena Williams’ opening matches at any Grand Slam are always on the radar. And while the 23-time Grand Slam winner’s play made the ultimate statement on Monday, Williams’ fashion statement in first-round play at the French Open made plenty of headlines as well.
Shortly before posting a first-round win over Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia, Williams debuted her latest apparel designed for her by Virgil Abloh in partnership with Nike.
This coming a year after her black compression-material catsuit caused controversy — the outfit drew criticism from French tennis officials that resulted in backlash and support for Williams.
Williams did not sport a full gown when she walked out onto Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday, but a scaled-down version with the words “mother, champion, queen and goddess” in French as part of the print.
At last year’s French Open, Williams wasn’t only trying to make a fashion statement when she wore the outfit that she called her “Wakanda-inspired catsuit,” referring to the fictional nation in the film “Black Panther.”
The full-length leggings were also worn for health reasons. In what was her first Grand Slam tournament since giving birth to her daughter nine months earlier, they were a precaution after a health scare related to blood clots.
French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli later said the outfit would no longer be accepted. “One must respect the game and the place,” he said.
Williams downplayed the comments at the US Open, saying she no longer needed to wear the leggings because she found that compression tights also work to keep her blood circulating. (She wore tights at Wimbledon, when she made it to the final.)
As for Monday’s match against Diatchenko, Williams got off to a slow start, committing 14 unforced errors before dropping the first set 2-6.
Williams quickly regrouped during the break, overwhelming the 28-year old Russian in the second set 6-1.
The three-time French Open champion gave Diatchenko no quarter in the third set, shutting her out 6-0 to cap the 90-minute victory.
Williams arrived in Paris having withdrawn from each of her past two tournaments because of a balky left knee, and the one before that because of illness. She had played only nine matches all season, and so her pursuit of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title — fourth at Roland Garros — is no sure thing.
While Williams showed no obvious signs of her recent knee problem in the early going, she didn’t look up to her best, either. Her movement wasn’t ideal, and she often reached for shots instead of thumping them.
After her mistake-filled first set, Williams committed six unforced errors in the second set and just four in the third. Her winner count went the other way: from five in the first set to nine in the second to 11 in the third.
Williams will now face the winner of the Dalila Jakupovic-Kurumi Nara match in the second round.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report