Williams was asked when was the last time she played a warmup tournament so close to a major.
Last year’s U.S. Open was her short answer. Then she elaborated.
“But before that, before this whole pandemic, I could count the times on one finger I’ve done that,” she said. “I’m just happy to be out here in any circumstances. It’s so cool after what the world went through the last 12 months.”
Williams had a tough win over Pironkova in last year’s U.S. Open quarterfinals, and then withdrew from their scheduled second-round match at the French Open because of an Achilles injury.
Williams won her last major title at the 2017 Australian Open, when she was pregnant with her daughter, Olympia. She’s still chasing Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, and an eighth in Australia.
On the bottom half of the draw, defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin rallied from a set and a break down to fend off Jessica Pegula 5-7, 7-5, 6-2.
U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka advanced in the Gippsland Trophy with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 371-ranked Katie Boulter. Next up for her will be Irina Begu, who upset fifth-seeded Johanna Konta 4-6, 7-6 (10), 7-6 (4).
Second-ranked Simona Halep advanced along with third-seeded Elina Svitolina, who beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2.