SER­ENA’S COME­BACK

Wil­liams beats windy con­di­tions – and a four-month in­jury lay-off – to shine

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

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

PIC­TURE: AP

BACK WITH A BANG: United States’ Ser­ena Wil­liams dur­ing her first round match against Pauline Par­men­tier of France in Auck­land.

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