Williams said she felt as if she was striking the ball cleanly in training ahead of the tournament, but match pressure changed the equation.
She faced her first break points after just three minutes of play. She saved them, but the struggle was real.
Diatchenko, a lean and unorthodox Russian with two-handed groundstrokes, upset Maria Sharapova in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Her flat shots are tricky to read, and she cracked winners off both wings in the early going that left the nervous Williams looking befuddled, flat footed and beside herself.
“Like concrete blocks on my feet,” Williams said.
She lost her serve at love in the fifth game and then won only one point on her serve in the seventh game. There were a few boos from the crowd, and after the first set, Williams sat in her chair on the changeover shaking her head and talking to herself. After she fell behind by 15-30 on her serve in the opening game of the second set, she turned to wait for the ball to be delivered by one of the ballpersons and put her head back and screamed in frustration.
“I don’t think I have ever done that before,” Williams said of Monday’s roar. “The past week and half has been really good, and God, it was like, this isn’t the Serena I have been practicing with or that I see every day.”
Cue catharsis: Williams went on to win the next three points and hold serve.
She would lose just one more game before securing her place in the second round, where she will face either the Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara, ranked 238th, or Dalila Jakupovic, a Slovenian ranked 105th.
Not a bad draw for someone who has played only 10 matches this year and is trying to work her way into form.
“Look, I would pick the field over her only because of her lack of match play,” Evert said. “But nothing would surprise me with Serena.”