Paris – Serena Williams admitted her eye-catching, figure-hugging black catsuit she sported on her Roland Garros return on Tuesday was inspired by the smash hit Black Panther movie but was also intended to help women with post-natal complications.
Williams defeated Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 to register her first victory at the majors since her 2017 Australian Open triumph.
But as well as her performance, the 36-year-old‘s black outfit was making headlines with the American insisting it was “fun as well as functional” in a nod to the severe health problems she suffered after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in September.
“I call it like my Wakanda-inspired cat suit. It‘s really fun,” she said in reference to the fictional African nation which features in the Marvel comics and was the centrepiece of the Black Panther movie blockbuster.
“I feel like a warrior princess. I always wanted to be a super hero.”
But having revealed that she suffered from blood clotting, which required life-saving surgery after her daughter‘s birth, she says the suit should not be dismissed as just another fashion gimmick.
“God, I don‘t know how many blood clots I have had in the past 12 months. So the suit has definitely a little functionality to it.
“I have been wearing pants in general a lot when I play so I can keep, you know, the blood circulation going. It‘s a fun suit, but it‘s also functional so I can be able to play without any problems.”
Williams, bidding to go level with Margaret Court‘s all-time record of 24 majors, was watched on Court Philippe Chatrier by husband Alexis Ohanian, the Reddit founder.
But Olympia was not present, leaving Serena to admit that the urge to get home to see her daughter was giving her a fresh perspective on a career which has spanned three decades.
Being a tennis-playing mother is also radically different from being a tennis-playing dad on the tour.
“Well, first and foremost, you have to get your core back, which is hard, because it literally spreads when you have a baby.
“That‘s difficult. And just coming back from the physical impact of having a baby, at my age is never easy.
“I actually breastfed for a really, really, really long time, and so I just had this real connection with my daughter.”
“But I‘m a super hands-on mom. Maybe too much!”
Williams, the 2002, 2013 and 2015 champion in Paris, was on Tuesday playing a claycourt match for the first time since she finished runner-up to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final in Paris.
“I missed Roland Garros so much, I missed the battle.
“I couldn‘t play last year. It‘s been two years since I played here. It wasn‘t easy but I have been training really hard. I feel good and just so happy to be back here.”
Williams had arrived at Roland Garros with just four matches under her belt in 2018.
The last time she had been spotted on a court was in a first-round loss to Naomi Osaka in Miami in March.
Whatever happens over the next two weeks, Williams insists her family priorities have eased the expectations on her as a player.
“I have given tennis so much, and tennis has actually given me a lot, and I couldn‘t be more grateful.
“But she‘s my priority, and I work everything around her. I really try to put her first in my life.”
Next up for Williams is a clash against Australian 17th seed Ashleigh Barty.
Results from day three of the French Open at Roland Garros on Tuesday (x denotes seeding):
Rafael Nadal (ESP x1) bt Simone Bolelli (ITA) 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11/9)
Guido Pella (ARG) bt Joao Sousa (POR) 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
Denis Shapovalov (CAN x24) bt John Millman (AUS) 7-5, 6-4, 6-2
Maximilian Marterer (GER) bt Ryan Harrison (USA) 6-1, 6-3, 7-5
Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) bt Yuki Bhambri (IND) 6-4, 6-4, 6-1
Jurgen Zopp (EST) bt Jack Sock (USA x14) 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3
Thomas Fabbiano (ITA) bt Matthew Ebden (AUS) 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) bt Feliciano Lopez (ESP x28) 6-2, 6-4, 6-2
Mischa Zverev (GER) bt Florian Mayer (GER) 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7/3)
Pablo Cuevas (URU) bt Aljaz Bedene (SLO) 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
Kevin Anderson (RSA x6) bt Paolo Lorenzi (ITA) 6-1, 6-2, 6-4
Marin Cilic (CRO x3) bt James Duckworth (AUS) 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4)
Hubert Hurkacz (POL) bt Tennys Sandgren (USA) 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) bt Evgeny Donskoy (RUS) 6-1, 6-3, 6-0
Steve Johnson (USA) bt Adrian Mannarino (FRA x25) 7-6 (7/1), 6-2, 6-2
Fabio Fognini (ITA x18) bt Pablo Andujar (ESP) 6-4, 6-2, 6-1
Elias Ymer (SWE) bt Dudi Sela (ISR) 7-6 (7/3), 6-3, 6-1
Marton Fucsovics (HUN) bt Vasek Pospisil (CAN) 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)
Kyle Edmund (GBR x16) bt Alex De Minaur (AUS) 6-2, 6-4, 6-3
John Isner (USA x9) bt Noah Rubin (USA) 6-3, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (9/7)
Horacio Zeballos (ARG) bt Yuichi Sugita (JPN) 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-2
Juan Martin del Potro (ARG x5) bt Nicolas Mahut (FRA) 1-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4
Taylor Townsend (USA) bt Myrtille Georges (FRA) 6-4, 6-2
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) bt Johanna Larsson (SWE) 6-4, 6-3
Daria Gavrilova (AUS x24) bt Sorana Cirstea (ROU) 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3
Elise Mertens (BEL x16) bt Varvara Lepchenko (USA) 6-7 (9/11), 7-6 (7/4), 6-0
Angelique Kerber (GER x12) bt Mona Barthel (GER) 6-2, 6-3
Ana Bogdan (ROU) bt Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 6-3, 1-6, 6-4
Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) bt Denisa Allertova (CZE) 6-4, 6-3
Kiki Bertens (NED x18) bt Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 6-2, 6-1
Zhang Shuai (CHN x27) bt Kristna Kucova (SVK) 6-0, 7-5
Irina Camelia Begu (ROU) bt Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK) 6-4, 5-7, 9-7
Peng Shuai (CHN) bt Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) 6-3, 6-4
Caroline Garcia (FRA x7) bt Duan Ying-Ying (CHN) 6-1, 6-0
Garbine Muguruza (ESP x3) bt Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) 7-6 (7/0), 6-2
Fiona Ferro (FRA) bt Carina Witthoeft (GER) 6-4, 6-2
Samantha Stosur (AUS) bt Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) 6-2, 6-4
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x30) bt Polona Hercog (SLO) 6-4, 7-6 (7/1)
Julia Goerges (GER x11) bt Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) 6-4, 5-7, 6-0
Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) bt Isabelle Wallace (AUS) 6-1, 6-0
Serena Williams (USA) bt Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) 7-6 (7/4), 6-4
Ashleigh Barty (AUS x17) bt Natalia Vikhlyantseva (RUS) 6-3, 6-1
Maria Sharapova (RUS x28) bt Richel Hogenkamp (NED) 6-1, 4-6, 6-3