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Serena back on track after Paris

Serena Williams reaches to hit a forehand during her opening round match.
by Ron Atkin
Tuesday 26 June 2012

The fate which had befallen her sister Venus 24 hours earlier on No.2 Court, long known as "The Graveyard of Champions" was not permitted to ensnare Serena Williams in the same setting as she resisted some bravura tennis from her Czech opponent Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and overcame some blips in her own game to run out a comfortable 6-2, 6-4 winner in one hour 20 minutes.

In a dozen previous Wimbledon appearances (four of them title-winning) Serena had never been beaten in the first round, but she arrived from the French Open on the back of a shock opening round exit there, the only time this has ever happened to her at a Grand Slam. "I was playing excellently before Paris," she reflected. "I hadn't felt that good for a long time going into a Grand Slam. So I was really disappointed. But as [US singer] Kelly Clarkson says, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. You've just got to keep going and, more than anything, not lose confidence."

At the age of 30, Serena is supremely skilled in this respect and she needed much of that match experience to keep at bay an opponent who was determined not to play second fiddle when it came to positive and aggressive tennis. The younger Williams made her intentions clear with a venomous smash on the very first point of the match and from 2-2 in the opening set she pulled away to capture the next four games, closing it out by winning a Hawk-Eye decision about a Strycova shot being over the baseline.

The second set featured violent swings of fortune, as well as five breaks of serve, and lasted 51 minutes. Serena went 3-1 ahead by breaking the Czech to love, only to drop her own delivery immediately, partly because of a double-fault. At once Strycova had to fight off a break point before holding serve with a brilliant half-volley played on her knees. But the Williams juggernaut was starting to make significant progress and, after holding to love, she broke and stepped up to serve for the match at 5-3.

The drama was not quite over, though. Strycova broke Serena, helped by the American's overhit backhand, but promptly dropped her own serve for the fifth time in the match, prompting a bellow of triumph from Serena.

"It was definitely a little relief," she explained. "I was happy to get through that. She was being really aggressive and hitting a lot of drop shots and coming to the net."

She agreed that Venus' defeat had had an effect on her attitude. "I always want to play even better if she's out of the tournament."

Serena paid tribute to the way Venus had coped with her recent illness [Sjogren's Syndrome]. "What she is dealing with it is hard to know each day just how you're going to feel. I don't think I could have what she has and continue to be the way she is and be so tough. I don't know how she can do what she does, run her business and still play pretty darn good tennis and still be so positive."

Serena called the opportunity to play the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon "unique, cool" and said she was looking forward to defending the doubles title she won with Venus at the 2008 Olympics.

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