MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Facing the setting sun, Serena Williams tried to shield her eyes with her left hand as she hit a shot, lost the point and then waved in frustration at the bothersome glare.
Later, after a seesaw victory in her first match at the Miami Open’s new site, she was able to joke about the unwanted spotlight.
“A lot of photographers came,” Williams said. “I thought, ‘This must be good light.’ I thought about taking a selfie, but you’ve got to stay in the moment.”
Williams played poorly for a stretch and was broken three times but steadied her game in the final set to beat Rebecca Peterson 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. She avoided a repeat of last year, when she was eliminated in the first round by Naomi Osaka.
That was Williams’ farewell to Key Biscayne, where she won eight titles. Only Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf have won any women’s tournament more times.
Six-time men’s champion Novak Djokovic won his opening match under the lights, beating Bernard Tomic 7-6 (2), 6-2.
With the Miami Open’s move to the Dolphins’ stadium complex, players are adjusting to the unfamiliar setting. The No. 1-ranked Osaka beat qualifier Yanina Wickmayer 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-1, but she and Williams both found the mix of sun and shadows in the cavernous stadium a challenge.
“It was interesting,” Williams said. “First it was dark out there, which was really odd. The shadows were so intense it was dark, and then … there was light.”
She chuckled and said, “Whatever. I need to focus on playing better or not being in the tournament much longer.”
Osaka agreed that any issues with visibility weren’t worth complaining about. She hit 14 aces and overcame a ragged stretch in the second set, when she became so frustrated she threw her racket.
“I had a bit of a dip,” Osaka said. “It was really hard for me, I think, emotionally in the second set, because I just started thinking about winning, not exactly the things I could do in order to win.”
Williams’ match followed a similar pattern, but she regrouped after a flurry of errors in the second set.
“I said, ‘Serena, you can play a lot better than that,'” she said.
While the outer courts were crowded on a mild, cloudless afternoon, there were only a few thousand spectators for Williams’ match in the 13,800-seat stadium, with temporary stands on three sides and a net replacing the 50-yard line.
“It was a different court, but it was a beautiful court,” said Williams, who happens to own a small share of the Dolphins. “It’s so different from anything I’ve played on in my entire career, so I was super excited.”
The mood was mostly subdued, although when Williams whacked a backhand winner with a grunt that echoed in the upper deck, the fans added their own roar to hers.
The match victory was the 76th for Williams in the tournament, but she hasn’t won a Miami Open title since 2015. She hasn’t won any tournament since the 2017 Australian Open, before she took a break of more than a year to become a mom.
The match was her first since she retired at Indian Wells two weeks ago because of a viral illness.
On the men’s side, defending champion John Isner hit 20 aces, lost only 11 points on his serve and beat qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7). No. 3-seeded Dominic Thiem, coming off the biggest title of his career Sunday at Indian Wells, lost his opening match to Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-4.
No. 5 Kei Nishikori was upset by Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Lajovic improved to 3-14 against top-10 players.
In other women’s play, Canadian 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who overcame a match point to win her opening match, reached the third round by beating No. 32 Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-3. Andreescu won her first career title last week at Indian Wells.
Defending Miami Open champion Sloane Stephens beat Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-3. Three-time champion Venus Williams overcame a wobbly start to beat No. 24 Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (4), 6-1.
More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis
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