Williams eases into clay season opener

Venus sets up all-Williams clash at Italian Open

Serena Williams looked sharper than in her previous match two months ago as she opened her clay-court season with a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson on Monday.

On a windy day, Williams fell behind 3-1 in the opening set but rebounded to run away with the first set 6-4 before comfortably winning the second set 6-2.

Serena finished with 28 winners to Peterson's eight, and committed only two more unforced errors than the 58th-ranked Swede, 22-20.

Serena, 37, has not played since a hard-fought three-set win over Petersen in the second round at the Miami Open in March before withdrawing with a knee injury. Konta won 40 per cent of her break points to help her progress to the last 32 where she will play seventh seed Sloane Stephens.

Williams, who has dropped to number 11 in the world rankings, will next face the victor of the first round clash between her sister Venus and reigning Qatar Open champion Elise Mertens.

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Serena and Venus Williams will meet in the second round at the Foro Italico, 21 years after their only other clash in Rome.

It's Serena's first tournament in Rome since 2016.

"I didn't get to train too much".

Peterson made one last stand in the final game - engineering two break points - but the American stood strong, saving both as she worked her way towards match point, converting her second to edge over the finish line.

"It was a very long match", Venus said during her press conference. 'It's been bad. I've been working as hard as I could keeping up my cardio as much as I could with a knee injury'.

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"Now when I go to tournaments, I really kind of want to get there early so I can have these different experiences and photos and videos and memories with Olympia".

"I love the clay season and wanted to do everything to be a part of it", said Serena, who is one title short of Chris Evert's record of five Rome crowns.

"I know that she's going to play really well and compete really well".

In men's action, Borna Coric rallied past Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 in a match-up of two of the top young players on tour.

A notable casualty was 15th seed Frenchman Gaël Monfils following his 3-6, 1-6 loss to Spain's Albert Ramos Viñolas.

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