WIMBLEDON, England — It wasn’t exactly smooth and efficient, but Serena Williams got the job done.
She opened her chase for her 24th Grand Slam singles title with a rusty 6-2, 7-5 victory over the unheralded Italian qualifier Giulia Gatto-Monticone on Tuesday afternoon on Centre Court.
Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon champion who is hoping to ease her way into form after struggling with injuries for much of this season, faced an opponent tailor-made for the circumstance. Gatto-Monticone, 31, was making just her second appearance in a major tournament. Her first came this summer, at the French Open, where she lost in the opening round.
Unsurprisingly, as the match began, Gatto-Monticone looked out of her element. She sprayed groundstrokes and offered only token resistance. Williams, seeded 11th, took the initial set in 29 minutes.
The second stanza was hard-fought. Gatto-Monticone began playing with freedom and cut down on errors. Williams, meantime, piled up easy mistakes and struggled to find her timing. She finally closed out the match by breaking serve after a tight exchange at the net.
Second-seeded Roger Federer had a blip of his own, losing his first set of the tournament, but he recovered to beat Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
Third-seeded Rafael Nadal advanced to a second-round meeting with Nick Kyrgios with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Yuichi Sugita of Japan. Fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem, a finalist at the French Open last month, lost to the American Sam Querrey, 6-7(4) 7-6(1) 6-3 6-0. The No. 6 and No. 7 seeds in the men’s draw, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, were eliminated in the first round Monday.
Williams and several other women playing Tuesday are in a quarter that has been called the Group of Death. Among them is the top seed and a recent French Open champion, Ashleigh Barty, who won her first match as the top-ranked woman, 6-4, 6-2, against Zheng Saisai, 6-4, 6-2. The defending women’s champion, Angelique Kerber, also advanced, defeating Tatjana Maria, 6-4, 6-3.
That quarter started with seven Grand Slam champions in it, but it lost two on Tuesday. Garbiñe Muguruza, the 2017 Wimbledon champion, fell to the Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia, 6-4, 6-4. Maria Sharapova, who served for the match while leading by 5-3 in the second, retired from her match with a left wrist injury while trailing Pauline Parmentier of France, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 5-0.
There had been plenty of speculation about Williams’s readiness going into this match. She was a finalist at last year’s Wimbledon and United States Open after returning in March from the birth of her daughter, but she has not been in peak form this season. At 37, she has battled ankle and knee injuries and played a truncated schedule.
After losing in the third round of the French Open, Williams did not play a pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournament. She received treatment on her left knee and practiced in France. On Tuesday, she appeared to be moving without pain, but she also lacked her hallmark first-step speed and steely anticipation.
It was a win, but a win that did little to answer questions about her ability to walk away with the championship trophy.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
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