Serena Williams voiced her support for Naomi Osaka and said she “feels for” her as she has also experienced “very difficult” press conferences in her career after her rival’s shock withdrawal from the French Open on Monday.

Japanese star Osaka withdrew from the French Open after being threatened with disqualification for declining to speak to the media on the eve of the tournament, saying she suffers from “bouts of depression”.

Also Read | Serena Williams reigns strong in first-ever night session at French Open

In the 2018 US Open Final, Williams, who famously lost to Osaka in the controversial said she sympathizes with Osaka. “The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like,” said Serena after her first-round win at Roland Garros.

“We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin,” said the 39-year-old, after her win over Irina-Camelia Begu in the first-ever night match.

Sharing her own experiences, Serena said that she has been in such a situation where it was very difficult to walk in (to press conferences) but she did it and it has made her stronger. “Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to…,” she added.

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Williams seeded seventh this year and saved two set points in a first-set tie-break as she started her latest bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title. 

She has reached six times in the major finals and has lost the last four of a major since her last Slam success in Melbourne four years ago. Willaims was beaten by Japanese Champion Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open semi-finals in February. She will take on Begu’s compatriot Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second round.

“It wasn’t easy in that first set. I was up and I felt like I had some opportunities. She’s a really good player, she’s had some really good wins so I was really happy I was able to get that first set and the match,” said the three-time Roland Garros champion.

Also Read | Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open

The first official night match under the lights on Court Philippe Chatrier was played behind closed doors due to a 9 pm curfew imposed by the French government due to Covid-19.

Earlier this month, Williams had suffered early defeats in both Roma and Parma, improved as the match progressed.

Whereas, Begu fought back in the opening set from 5-2 down, but failed to serve it out when leading 6-5 and then saw two set points come and go when leading the breaker 6-4.

On the other hand, Williams needed only one opportunity, driving a forehand volley into the corner to take control. The former world number one strengthened her grip on the tie by breaking 74th-ranked Begu in the first game of the second set.

She moved through the gears on her own serve from there and broke again in the seventh game before wrapping up victory after an hour and 42 minutes.