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Serena cruises in Yarra Valley Classic opener

Melbourne (Reuters): Serena Williams showed no signs of rust as she began her season with a comfortable 6-1 6-4 win over Daria Gavrilova in Melbourne on Monday to reach the Yarra Valley Classic round of 16.

The 23-times Grand Slam champion, who is warming up for the Australian Open, was at her dominant best after a slow start in which she saved four break points in the opening game of the contest at Margaret Court Arena.

Former world number one Williams has not played since withdrawing from last year’s French open second round in September with an Achilles injury, but made quick work of Gavrilova, striking 27 winners including 16 in the opening set. “It feels good to be back here,” 39-year-old Williams, who is chasing a record-equalling 24th major, said in an on-court interview.

“I felt I was definitely composed and in a zone and trying to do the things I’ve been working on.” Up next for Williams is Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who she was due to face at Roland Garros before her injury.

Former world number one Karolina Pliskova also advanced to the next round in style, firing seven aces and 30 winners in her 6-3 6-2 victory over Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

She next meets former Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins who beat Nina Stojanovic 6-1 6-2. “We’ve never played and there aren’t many players like this for me except the young ones,” Pliskova said. “It’s going to be an interesting match, I’m looking forward to it.

“She’s playing well here always every year, so it’s going to be a nice match.” Also advancing were Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who beat Misaki Doi 6-1 6-4 and Petra Martic who battled past Vera Lapko 4-6 6-3 6-2. The tournament is one of six arranged by Tennis Australia before the Australian Open, which begins Feb. 8.