NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former champion Angelique Kerber returned to action for the first time in seven months and beat Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4 6-4 on Monday to reach the second round of the U.S. Open.
The 17th-seeded German, who entered the match having not competed since the fourth round of the Australian Open, overcame a shaky start on serve and got better as the 88-minute match at Louis Armstrong Stadium wore on.
"It's not easy to play your first match after such a long time and it was my first match after Australia so I'm really happy how I played for the first match," said Kerber.
"It's always a little bit different to play points, and especially a match, than playing just practice points so I am happy how I did the transition to the match court now."
Kerber was sidelined with a leg injury before the COVID-19 outbreak forced a shutdown of global tennis in March and did not compete in last week's warm-up event played on the site of the U.S. Open.
But despite the lack of recent competitive action, the 32-year-old former world number one needed only a handful of games to shake off the rust and never looked back as she improved her career record against Tomljanovic to 2-0.
Kerber, a three-times Grand Slam champion who triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2016, traded breaks with Tomljanovic through the first four games of the match and then found her footing.
The German southpaw converted all three break-point chances to pull ahead 5-4 and went on to serve out at love to grab the first set when world number 59 Tomljanovic sent a forehand into the net.
In the second, Kerber quickly settled into a groove and broke her opponent twice before sealing the win on her third match point when a Tomljanovic forehand sailed long.
The U.S. Open is the first Grand Slam to be contested in the COVID-19 era and is being held without spectators to help prevent spread of the virus.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon)