Photo : Peter Power/Tennis Canada
By Max Gao
23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams made a triumphant return to Toronto on Monday afternoon, battling past Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 57 minutes. Williams—a three-time winner of this event in 2001, 2011 and 2013–will now await the winner of the first-round match between No. 12 seed and 2015 champion Belinda Bencic and qualifier Tereza Martincova.
In her first hardcourt tournament since the 2021 Australian Open, Williams traded early breaks with Parrizas Diaz before earning a crucial break at 4-3. From there, she was able to convert her fourth set point in a marathon ninth game, ending the opening set with an overhead smash winner.
Parrizas Diaz, who received direct entry into the main draw as a lucky loser after falling in the final round of qualifying yesterday, continued to make the most of her golden opportunity, going toe-to-toe with Williams from the back of the court.
While she was only broken once in the match, Williams found herself on the defensive in many of her own service games, saving a pair of break points early in the second set. The turning point came in the eighth game, when the American legend snuffed out four break points in a marathon 9-deuce, 24-point game. Once she survived that mini-battle, Williams was able to secure a rare break and served the match out in style to move into the second round.
Earlier in the day, No. 15 seed and two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep kicked off her quest for another title at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers on Monday, cruising past lucky loser Donna Vekic, 6-0, 6-2, in just 61 minutes to book her place in the second round. Halep, who won her two titles at this event in Montreal in 2016 and 2018, will now await the winner of the match between China’s Zhang Shuai and Spanish qualifier Cristina Bucsa.
Making her 10th appearance at this event, Halep showed no signs of the illness that forced her to pull out of the Citi Open in Washington last week, looking rock solid from the back of the court as Vekic struggled to find her range in the opening set. The Romanian cruised to a one-set advantage in just 21 minutes, after the lucky loser netted an easy volley on set point.
Despite some early resistance from Vekic, who saved four break points in her first service game of the second set, the Croat continued to come undone by her own unforced errors, with Halep breaking at love a couple of games later. From there, the No. 15 seed pressed home her advantage, reeling off three of the next four games to record her third victory over Vekic in as many meetings. She broke five times in all and had break points in each of Vekic’s service games—all while winning 87% (20/23) of the points behind her first serve.
In the next round, Halep will come face-to-face with a player she knows relatively well: She holds a 3-2 head-to-head record against Zhang, who recorded two famous victories against her in 2016 but who she beat earlier this year in Madrid, and a 1-0 record against Bucsa, who she beat last week in Washington.