The Williams sisters legged it into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday’s opening day, with Serena debuting a catsuit which covered only one of her lower extremities.
The player bidding to make history at this edition by winning a 24th Grand Slam singles title, advanced past German Laura Siegemund with the loss of just two games in 57 minutes with six breaks of serve.
But her skintight one-legged garment drew the majority of interest during the pro forma performance, which followed a 7-5, 6-2 win by big sister Venus over Kirsten Flipkens.
Serena said her attire was designed as homage to a late women’s athletics great Florence Griffith, a treble gold medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“I was inspired by FloJo, an amazing athlete when I was growing up,” 10th seed Serena said. “(I was) watching her fashion, (she was) just always changing.
“The Nike team actually thought of this design, obviously we made some changes and tweaks to it. It became this.”
No. 2 Simona Halep motored to a set and 5-0 but had to overcome a brief threat from Australia’s Lizzie Cabrera before closing out a 6-2, 6-1 first-round win.
Halep was broken while serving for victory, but broke straight back to advance in 59 minutes.
Third-seeded Naomi Osaka, who won the 2019 trophy, was pleased to see some fans in tehe stands for her 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Russian Anastasia Pavlychenkova.
“Throughout the match I was really happy to have fans there. I felt like there was more interaction than in New York (no fans allowed) because there was just a generic crowd noise every point,” the Japanese player said.
“Here it felt like they weighed whether I made a mistake and stuff like that – it was more fun.”
The public numbers were possibly less than organisers had thought when they put a cap of 30,000 per day allowed into Melbourne Park.
So thin were the crowds that officials texted day session fans that they could come back for night play if they wished.
There was a troubling defeat for three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, with the German who lifted the title her five years ago falling to American Bernarda Pera 6-4, 6-0.
The 33-year-old Kerber had to endure a “hard” pre-Open COVID-19 lockdown after the bad luck of arriving on a plane which carried a positive virus case.
She had been unable to leave her hotel room until late last week and just could not make up the lost practice time.
“I was really trying to staying positive and doing the best out of the two-week situation,” she said.
“But, of course, you feel it, especially if you play a real match where it counts and you play the first matches in a Grand Slam, also against an opponent who doesn’t stay in the hard lockdown.
“What can I do? I tried the best out of it… you feel it if you are not hitting ball two weeks and you are not in the rhythm.”
Bianca Andreescu made her first appearance on a match court since September, 2019 – a span of nearly a year and a half – after a series of injuries, struggling to get past Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
“Last night, I was really, really nervous,” the Canadian said. “I was just overwhelmed.
“I had the emotions of just being so happy and grateful to be back on the court, healthy … then the nervousness of, oh, if I win, if I lose, this kind of stuff.
“I tried not to pay too much attention to that, which is easy to say. I was just super happy on the court and just grateful to be back.”
2019 finalist Petra Kvitova, seed ninth, came through with another straight-set victory for seeds, beating Greetje Minnen of Belgium 6-3, 6-4.