Insects, not ankle, bug Serena in Aussie comeback
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — If anything, it was the insects buzzing around Rod Laver Arena that bugged Serena Williams the most.
The injured left ankle held up fine in her opening match Tuesday at the Australian Open, and even the near-midnight start time was OK. But the bugs?
"I hate bugs more than you can imagine," Williams said after reaching the second round by beating Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-2. "Like, they kept jumping on me. Yuck!"
The match started at 11:32 p.m., and Williams hit a service winner 79 minutes later to finish it off. Between points, though, she picked up and moved or shooed away bugs that landed on court, and two that landed on her back. A big one gave her a fright, making her hop as she tried to stifle a screech.
"I'm going to request not to play at night anymore because I hate bugs, except for the final. I heard it's at night," Williams said. "I'll try to get used to them."
Two years after she won her last Australian Open title, Williams extended her winning streak to 15 matches at Melbourne Park in the season's first major tournament. She won titles in 2009 and 2010 but missed the chance to defend her title last year amid a prolonged injury layoff.
The match started late start because Williams and Paszek had to wait until the conclusion of a 4-hour men's night match won by Leyton Hewitt. And it was her first match since badly spraining her ankle two weeks ago at the Brisbane International, an injury that jeopardized her participation in Melbourne. Monday was the first time she was able to practice pain free, but she still had her lower left leg and ankles heavily taped.
"I don't let anything bother me," she said. "It's definitely different to have the ladies play so late, you know, so we'll see."
Williams was playing only her third match since losing the U.S. Open final to Sam Stosur last September, so she admitted being "a wee bit tight."
She maintained her run of never losing in the first round of a major, overcoming a low-key start to get the decisive first-set break in the eighth game. She broke Paszek in the fifth game of the second set, then served four aces in the next game that lasted less than a minute as she hurried to the finish.
"Physically I felt fine. I was definitely moving better than I suspected," Williams said. "I still think I can move better, though, and just get that confidence.
"I definitely think it was good because I moved a lot and I challenged myself a lot. She made a few drop shots. She really pushed me physically. I think that's really something I needed to kind of feel and assess my ankle."
Williams conceded it wasn't easy to get herself ready.
"I'm doing everything possible that I can, things I've never done, just to get it better," she said, declining to elaborate on her therapy except to say it involved a lot of ice and experience from recovering from other injuries. "But it is a very, very, very bad sprain. So I'm just playing it by ear."
Stosur, the last woman to beat Williams, didn't make the second round. The U.S. Open champion lost 7-6 (2), 6-3 to No. 59-ranked Sorana Cirstea.
"Certainly not the way that I wanted, not just this tournament, but the whole summer," to play out, Stosur said. "There's not any other word for it but a total disappointment."
Stosur's first-round loss mirrors that of Petra Kvitova, who went out in the first round of last year's U.S. Open after winning Wimbledon.
The second-ranked Kvitova advanced this time. After surrendering her opening service game with a double-fault, Kvitova won 12 consecutive games in a 6-2, 6-0 romp over Vera Dushevina of Russia.
No. 4-ranked Maria Sharapova won the first eight games of a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Gisela Dulko of Argentina in her first match since returning from a left ankle injury.
Stosur is gone, but fans hung around to watch another Aussie hope. Hewitt, a two-time major winner and former Australian Open finalist, gave the night session crowd something to cheer when he beat Cedrik-Marcel Stebe of Germany 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, winning the last six games to overcome two service breaks in the last set.
The Australian veteran is famous for playing the latest finishing Grand Slam match, a win over Marcos Baghdatis in 2008 that ended at 4:34 a.m. That match started after a late-finishing women's match, so he wasn't unhappy about switching places in the program this time.
"I don't really want to have too many of the Baghdatis matches again," Hewitt said. "Go home and McDonald's is already open on the way home for breakfast. Yeah, it's nice. The girls can do that for a change."
His win put him into a second-round match against old rival Andy Roddick, who easily defeated Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.
Defending champion and top-ranked Novak Djokovic dropped an early service game before winning the last 17 games to beat Paolo Lorenzi of Italy 6-2, 6-0, 6-0.
He wore pair of red, white and blue shoes with images of his three major trophies he won in 2011 on the sides and a Serbian flag on the heels.
"I just have more confidence that I'm playing on right now," Djokovic said. "I just believe that I can win, especially against the biggest rivals in the major events."
Both the men he has beaten in Australian finals also advanced. Andy Murray, runner-up the last two years, defeated American teenager Ryan Harrison 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, beaten by Djokovic in the 2008 final, eliminated Denis Istomin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Rafael Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion, and four-time winner Roger Federer play Wednesday.
Federer makes a rare departure from Rod Laver Arena, playing his second-round match against Andreas Beck in the last match on Hisense Arena, the second show court at Melbourne Park, immediately after top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki faces Anna Tatishvili of Georgia.
It will be the first time since a second-round win over American qualifier Jeff Morrison in 2004 that Federer hasn't played an Australian Open singles match on Rod Laver Arena. He won his first Australian title that year and has played 52 consecutive matches on Rod Laver since.
French Open champion Li Na opens the program on Rod Laver on Wednesday against Oliva Rogowska of Australia in the second round. Kim Clijsters, who beat Li to win the last Australian Open title, is next on center court against Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France.