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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, August 8, 2022

 
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Serena Williams subdued Nuria Parrizas Diaz 6-3, 6-4 to score her first singles win in a year-and-a-half at the National Bank Open in Toronto.

Photo credit: Getty

Karaoke queen Serena Williams was in no mood for a Toronto swan song today.

Williams cleared her throat and tuned into the muse to score her first win since 2021 in stirring style.

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Showing steely will and strong wheels at crunch time, Williams withstood a stiff challenge from Spanish lucky loser Nuria Parrizas Diaz 6-3, 6-4 to score her first singles win in a year-and-a-half at the National Bank Open in Toronto.

"I mean it's just one win, you know, it takes a lot," Williams told the media in Toronto. "But I was happy, like I said, to have a win. It's been a very long time. I forgot what it felt like."




It was Williams' first singles win since she beat Danielle Collins in the third round of the 2021 Roland Garros in May of 2021.

Though the score line looks straightforward, it wasn't exactly at easy day at the office for the former world No. 1, who fought with deep desire to close a competitive second set.

"I feel good. I felt like I competed well today and I think that's what I needed to do is just to compete," Williams said. "Mentally I feel I'm getting there. I'm not where I normally am and I'm not where I want to be. But I think any match that I play, whether I win or lose, it helps me get there mentally.

"Because I haven't played a lot in the last year, two years. So I think that that really helps me. Physically I feel much better in practice, it's just like getting that to the court. But literally I'm the kind of person who it just takes one or two things and then it clicks. So I'm just waiting on that to click."




In a sweaty, sticky match, the three-time former champion staved off four break points in a punishing 16-minute hold to level the second set at 4-all.

That ferocious stand seemed to strengthen Williams, who was bending over at the waist sucking in deep gulps of air midway through the set. Williams caught a second wind, ran down nearly everything the Spaniard struck and cracked some timely drives winning the final three games to take the match.

Twenty-two years after her tournament debut, the 41-year-old superstar showed signs of inactivity-induced rust. Williams was flat-footed at times, was sometimes pushed into defensive positions by her 31-year-old opponent and wasn't winning as many free points on her vaunted serve as we're accustomed to seeing from her.

Still, Williams delivered some of her most assertive tennis on pivotal points. Serena saved seven of eight break points, smacked seven aces and played with her trademark passion in her first singles match since she bowed to 115th-ranked Harmony Tan 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(10) in a dramatic and wildly entertaining Centre Court thriller at Wimbledon.

Staring down break point at 1-2 in the second set, Serena summoned the warrior within. Both women were cracking the ball with vigor in an electric exchange that sent Williams careening corner to corner before she unleashed a laser forehand winner and raised a clenched fist to Toronto fans.




That superb strike saved break point and spiked an approving roar from fans. A fired up Williams fought through a demanding hold to level after four games.

Credit Parrizas Diaz, who was hitting her groundstrokes bigger than the former No. 1 at that point, for continuing to press. The Spaniard was smacking her two-handed backhand crosscourt with sharp angle and when Williams was pushed into the corner to defend it, Parrizas Diaz sometimes drove her backhand down the line for clean winners. Williams faced another break point in the sixth game, but hit her way out of pressure holding for 3-3.

The Spaniard earned break point for the third game in a row only to see Williams thump a heavy serve down the T to deny it. A flat-footed Williams pasted a shot into the middle of the net to face a fourth break point of the set. Williams whipped a wide serve winner to erase it. Williams wiped away another break point slamming a forehand that skidded off the baseline sliding underneath Parrizas Diaz's forehand.

Parrizas Diaz skipped a shot right off the baseline handcuffing Williams for a sixth break point. Williams wiped it away as the struggled stretched to its eighth deuce.

Williams landed a backhand in the corner fighting through a 16-minute hold for 4-all.



That sweaty struggle only made the American more determined. Williams dug out several Parrizas Diaz drives in the corner finally drawing a floated error to break for 5-4 with a fist toward her box.

A 116 mph serve and a forehand drive volley brought Williams to match point.

Williams whipped a forehand down the line wrapping a gripping battle in one hour, 57 minutes.

Tennis Express

Tugging on her vanilla visor as she walked toward net for the post-match handshake, Williams told Parrizas Diaz "you played really well."

When Williams thrust her arms in the air acknowledging the crowd, it was clear how much this moment meant to her.

"I just wanted to be out here today," Williams said. "Obviously I love playing out here in Toronto, I've done well here in the past. I was just out here doing my best today."

The question is how good does Serena's best fare against elite opponents 15 and 20 years younger?

We will learn more when four-time Olympic gold-medal champion Williams will face either reigning gold-medal champion Belinda Bencic or Czech qualifier Tereza Martincova next.

It was a good day for Grand Slam champions.

Earlier, former world No. 1 Simona Halep streaked through seven straight games dismissing Donna Vekic 6-0, 6-2.

Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina converted seven of 22 break-point chances defeating qualifier Marie Bouzkova 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-1. Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko pounded out a 6-4, 6-2 win over Anhelina Kalinina.


 

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