Williams beats windy conditions – and a four-month injury lay-off – to shine
WORLD No 2 Serena Williams shook out any cobwebs from four months away from tennis with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over France’s Pauline Parmentier in the first round of the Auckland Classic yesterday.
The 35-year-old had not played a competitive match since she lost to Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals of the US Open last September, withdrawing from all tennis to deal with a persistent shoulder injury.
The American, who had participated in a charity doubles match with sister Venus against All Blacks siblings Julian and Ardie Savea before the tournament started, was appearing for the first time in Auckland and persistent rain on Monday postponed her first round match until yesterday.
She struggled with the wind and had some rusty moments in the second set when the Frenchwoman broke in the fourth game and held three break points in the sixth. The top seed was able to overcome them, however, and won the match with her eighth ace.
“It was my first match back in several months and I played a really good player,” Williams said courtside after she wrapped up victory in 75 minutes to set up a second round clash against qualifier Jamie Loeb or Madison Brengle.
“The wind was really getting to me. Every day I have practised here there was no wind but today it was so windy. So it was fun. Actually, it wasn’t fun, it was interesting.”
She conceded she was feeling rusty and would be selective about her schedule in the new season.
“I don’t see myself playing a full, full schedule. But who knows? I’m going to take it tourney by tourney.”
Injury kept her out of much of the second half in 2016 even though she still triumphed in Wimbledon to equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles and her target this year was to surpass that. “Unfortunately I have the highest of goals usually, so obviously that involves winning Grand Slams,” she said.
Another former world No 1, Caroline Wozniacki, dropped just one game in a ruthless 6-1, 6-0 dismantling of Nicole Gibbs in their first round match.
“It’s the first match of the year for me so it’s always tough,” Wozniacki said. “(But) today everything was going in, even with the wind I managed to keep control of the ball and the points. I was pleased, especially with how I was serving.”
Meanwhile, six-time champions United States remained undefeated in the Hopman Cup after posting a pair of singles victories over Spain in Perth, Australia yesterday. Tournament debutante Coco Vandeweghe ran her record this week to 2-0 as she beat Lara Arruabarrena 6-2, 6-4. Jack Sock then wrapped up the 2-0 win when he beat Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Vandeweghe, the Californian daughter of an Olympian mother, was dissatisfied with her serve despite earning the winning scoreline over Arruabarrena.
“I felt like my serve was all over the place, but it was good when it counted – which is important,” Vandeweghe said. “I felt I was cruising in the second set. Hopefully I can tighten up my serve.”
Sock and Vandeweghe both won under the open roof in 39º C conditions, typical at the height of summer in Western Australia.
Sock said he can see room for polishing his form: “There are things to improve for the rest of the Australian summer. I (didn’t) serve as well as I did in the first match, but able to dictate with my forehand from the back of the court.”– Additional reporting dpa
BACK WITH A BANG: United States’ Serena Williams during her first round match against Pauline Parmentier of France in Auckland.