The Williams sisters will play against each other for the first time this year—and the 31st time overall—in the second round of Rome, after both won first-round victories on Monday.
The way Venus and Serena advanced couldn't have been more different. Serena, the No. 10 seed, was the first to advance, rallying from an early 3-1 deficit to move past Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson in an hour and 15 minutes, 6-4, 6-2. Serena was playing her first match since withdrawing mid-tournament in Miami due to a knee injury.
“It felt good to be back,” she said afterwards. “I haven’t played a ton of matches this year. Not by choice—just by force. I really, really, actually, desperately wanted to be on the tour and be playing, but it hasn’t worked out. So it felt good to finally be back, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.”
The 23-time Grand Slam champion was asked about a potential second-round clash with Venus, who played her match against former Australian Open semifinalist Elise Mertens later in the day.
“We play each other a lot—it seems like every tournament nowadays we meet early,” Serena said. “She has a really tough first round, so I’m hoping she’ll get through that, and then we’ll go from there.”
Venus did get through her match—though she needed nine match points, and three hours and three minutes of court time to do it, outlasting the No. 20-ranked Mertens on Grandstand court, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (4).
At one point, Venus opened up a seemingly insurmountable 5-1 third-set lead, but the drama was only just about to begin. Mertens fought off eight match points and broke Venus all three times she served for the match, and the two players ended up in a third set tiebreak.
Venus finally closed it out there, clinching the victory when a Mertens forehand return sailed out.
Venus was playing her first match since Miami, where she fell to Simona Halep in the fourth round.
“It was a very long match. I couldn’t really tell when or how it was going to end, but I was happy it did,” Venus told WTATennis.com. “I think the first match after a while, you’re just trying to hang in there, just get the motor going. I think that’s really what today was about, just trying to get going.”
After a day off on Tuesday, the Williams sisters will meet on Wednesday. Serena leads the head-to-head, 18-12, but they’ve only played three times before on clay, with Serena leading, 2-1—Venus won their first clay-court meeting in the 1998 Rome quarterfinals (6-4, 6-2), with Serena winning in the 2002 French Open final (7-5, 6-3), and in the 2013 Charleston semifinals (6-1, 6-2).
Both Williamses have won the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, with Venus winning the title in 1999 and Serena winning it four times since, in 2002, 2013, 2014 and 2016.