Serena Williams opens clay season with routine win in Rome

Serena Williams, of the United States, returns the ball to Sweden's Rebecca Peterson during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Serena Williams, of the United States, enters the central court to start her match against Sweden's Rebecca Peterson at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Serena Williams, of the United States, prepares to serve the ball to Sweden's Rebecca Peterson during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Serena Williams, of the United States, serves the ball to Sweden's Rebecca Peterson during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Serena Williams, of the United States, serves the ball to Sweden's Rebecca Peterson during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Spain's Rafael Nadal attends a press conference at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime returns the ball to Croatia's Borna Coric during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Monday, May, 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME — Serena Williams looked sharper than her previous match in March as she opened her clay-court season at the Italian Open with a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson on Monday.

In March at the Miami Open, Williams needed three sets to beat Peterson.

"It's been a while. I haven't played a ton of matches this year," Williams said. "Not my choice, just by force. I really, really actually desperately wanted to be on the tour and to be playing. It felt good to finally be back out. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep it up."

Williams fell behind 3-1 in the first set but then began to take control with her baseline power on a windy day at the Foro Italico.

When Williams ran down a passing attempt from Peterson and replied with a cross-court winner to break for 5-2 in the second set, she let out a scream and bent over as she pumped both of her fists.

In the final game, Williams served two aces and saved two break points before closing out the first-round match.

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

Williams was playing for the first time since withdrawing ahead of her third-round match in Miami because of a left knee injury. The last time Williams played in Rome was in 2016 when she won the last of her four Italian Open trophies.

"I haven't been able to train or practice a lot. I was out much longer than I expected," Williams said. "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."

If Venus Williams wins her match against Elise Mertens, the Williams sisters will meet in the second round.

In men's action, Borna Coric rallied past Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two of the top young players on tour. Auger-Aliassime struggled with his serve, hitting seven double-faults to Coric's one.

Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco also had to come from behind to beat Kyle Edmund 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Verdasco will next face fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem. Also, Laslo Djere defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-4.

Others advancing on the women's side included Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta, Dominika Cibulkova, Katerina Siniakova and Yulia Putintseva.

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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