PARIS -- Everything in her life has changed since her last Grand Slam appearance except her aura, undimmed by absence. Serena Williams walked onto center court at Roland Garros on Tuesday in a black bodysuit whose surface gleamed like tempered steel in the afternoon sunlight, interrupted only by a bright red band at her waist. It was a superhero statement celebrating all that she's earned.
"It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been through a lot mentally, physically with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves," she told reporters, smiling and relaxed after clearing her first hurdle with a somewhat taxing 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic.
Yet the suit has a more pragmatic aspect as well. Postpartum blood clots threatened Williams' health last year, and compression fabric is a wise idea for an athlete mindful of good circulation. "It's a fun suit, but it's also functional," she said.
That duality is part of Williams' daily life now as the mother of an 9-month-old daughter. Serena noted her on-time arrival at her postmatch news conference -- a rare occurrence in her pre-motherhood career. Time management means more to her now.
"I want to get home and see Olympia, because I have been here all day," Williams said. "Usually we hang out all the time. If I'm not practicing, we're hanging out.
"So that is the biggest difference. I'm concerned how that's going to work out for me, because normally in Grand Slams, I do spend a lot of time at the site. She's so young, I don't really bring her. So, yeah, this is definitely going to be interesting."
Anyone who's paying attention would echo that sentiment. Who could generate more intrigue than Williams? Having won the most recent of her 23 majors while pregnant, she's setting out to see how much more she can accomplish as a 36-year-old mom.
This tournament felt as if it were holding its collective breath for her slightly rain-delayed debut on Day 3, a comeback within a comeback that began three months ago with a Fed Cup doubles match and continued with a pair of wins at Indian Wells.
When last seen in an official event, Williams was striding off the court in Key Biscayne and directly into a waiting car after a disappointing Miami Open loss to Naomi Osaka. She skipped the clay-court season, attended the royal wedding and continued to work at -- her words -- getting her core back.
Paris, where Williams begins again, is where she won the second of her 23 major titles, where she fell for the first time in the first round of a Grand Slam after 46 consecutive wins, and where she waited the longest -- 11 years -- to be a champion again, learning enough French in the interim to express her elation in on-court interviews.
She played deliberately, showing little emotion early on other than an occasional sigh and double take at the net when it foiled her intentions. But down 3-0 in the first-set tiebreaker, Williams placed an ace on the T and gathered steam as she reeled off six of the next seven points.
Pliskova admitted she had nerves at the start of the match, which zigzagged along without any particular rhythm initially, with short points and a fair sprinkling of aces. Later on, Pliskova's efforts to stretch Williams out on longer rallies didn't always pay off. Williams "played better than I expected," Pliskova said bluntly. "I thought she was moving quite well."
It appears the reports that Serena Williams was the beer pong champ during the Royal Wedding festivities was untrue. Here’s what she had to say about it after her win Tuesday at the French Open: “Oh, there was no beer pong. I don't know where this story -- I don't even drink beer, and I don't know where this story came out. It's not even remotely true. And my friends are, like, ‘What happened?’ I'm like, ‘There was no beer pong.’ I was looking at Alexis like, wait a minute, did we miss something?”
Next up for Williams is a Thursday meeting with Australia's Ashleigh Barty, who saw Williams' figure looming over the grounds on a giant video screen as she left an outer court after her first-round match -- "a bit hard to avoid," she said.
Barty was a doubles finalist in Paris last year but has never advanced past the second round in singles here. Williams notched a routine straight-sets win in their only previous meeting, in the first round of the 2014 Australian Open. The 17th-seeded Barty, Australia's top-ranked woman here, withdrew from her semifinal in Strasbourg last week after experiencing back spasms the day before, but told reporters she's ready to play.
Williams wouldn't have showed up here unless she could say the same. But as any working mother can attest, readiness can be a shifting target and everyone has to wing it to a certain extent.
"In the beginning, it was difficult to learn [Olympia's] nap schedules, even though she's never on schedule, but at least I know that for certain parts of the day I'm spending all that time with her, because I don't want her to ever feel like I'm not around," Williams said.
"I'm a super hands-on mom. Maybe too much."
She hadn't tried on the new catsuit in about a month, but it fit just fine. There could be more ad-libbing in her future. Williams might be a queen, as the current Nike campaign asserts, but she's no longer sole ruler of her personal realm.