Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in 2017
Serena Williams says she might not have been able to play at the Australian Open if she hadn’t been pushed back by three weeks.
Williams, who had a record-breaking 24th major singles title next week, said she needed “the extra time” to fully recover from an Achilles injury she sustained at the US Open in September.
She and Britain’s Katie Boulter won her openings when the warm-up events began.
The two are playing at the Gippsland Trophy – one of six events taking place simultaneously in Melbourne Park this week so players can prepare for the Australian Open.
Boulter, who has played in her second WTA main draw game since February 2019, defeated Russian Anna Kalinskaya 6-1 and 6-3.
Williams won 6-1 and 6-4 against Australian Daria Gavrilova.
“I don’t think I would have been here if it had been during the regular season,” said the 39-year-old American.
“Achilles are honestly the worst. Oh my god, I didn’t know it was going to take that long.
“I’ve definitely crossed the line, but I’m here.”
The fifth seed will play against Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in the last 16.
Boulter impresses on return to action
Katie Boulter had limited playtime due to the coronavirus pandemic and a long-term back injury
Boulter’s 2019 season was interrupted by a back injury she sustained at the Fed Cup in April.
She only played two main WTA draw games in 2020, winning the first before retiring to Sofia Kenin in the second round.
However, it only took the 24-year-old 59 minutes to beat Kalinskaya in Melbourne and arrange a round two meetup with teenage Gauff.
The American Gauff, who reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2020, fought against the Swiss Jil Teichmann with 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-5).
Gauff wasted a 4-2 lead in the second set and a 4-1 lead in the third before finally winning in two hours and 47 minutes.
The British number one Johanna Konta, who said goodbye in the first round, will play against the American Bernarda Pera.
Konta, who was among a number of players who were allowed to train five hours a day from quarantine, said being in Melbourne, where no locally acquired cases of Covid-19 had occurred in more than three weeks, was “feeling normal.” closest to “we probably had that in almost a year”.
“The chance to go to restaurants and see more people walking around definitely gives you a sense of normalcy,” said the 29-year-old.
“We were walking down the street and there were people queuing to go to bars, clubs and so on. At some point we had to go through a lot of people and it was interesting.
“It felt so nice not to be so worried about being with people.”
US Open champion Naomi Osaka and number two in the world, Simona Halep, also take part in the main draw.
Top seed Halep reached the third round with a 6: 4: 6: 4 win over the Russian Anastasia Potapova.
In the Yarra Valley Classic, Great Britain Francesca Jones lost 6-1 6-3 to French Open semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska from Argentina.
Venus Williams passed Arantxa Rus 6: 1 to 6: 3 and prepared a meeting in the second round with the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
World number 1 Ashleigh Barty will be back in action against Ana Bogdan on Tuesday.
Australian Barty, who decided not to travel because of the 2020 pandemic, will be assisted in the main draw by Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin.
British number two at the men’s Murray River Open Cameron Norrie was ousted by the American Tommy Paul with 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-3.
Compatriot Dan Evans will play against Pedro Sousa from Portugal in the same event on Tuesday.
The ATP Cup, a team event for men with Novak Djokovic, world number 1, and 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, starts on Tuesday in Melbourne Park. From Wednesday there will also be an individual event for women – the Grampians Trophy players who were in “tough” quarantine.
All players who arrived in Australia had to undergo a 14-day quarantine before the start of the tournaments. Most were able to leave their accommodations five hours a day to exercise, but a group of 72 people were permanently locked in their hotel rooms due to positive coronavirus cases on their charter flights.