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.
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.
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.
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.