'Untouchable' Serena gives herself an 'A' for effort
World No. 1 shows no ill effects of knee injury; retired Li Na says American is 'untouchable'
World No. 1 Serena Williams gave herself an "A" for effort yesterday, as she battled past Camila Giorgi to reach the Australian Open second round and ease concerns over her injured knee.
In searing heat, the six-time Australian Open champion (above), who is gunning to equal Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slam titles, ground down the Italian 6-4, 7-5 in 1hr 45 min.
Wearing a canary yellow pleated skirt and matching midriff-baring shirt, displaying her pierced navel, Williams was composed but not her usual clinical self during the draining workout.
"It's great. It was an hour and 45 minutes and I didn't feel it at all," she said of her knee, after successfully coming through her first Tour-level match since the US Open in September.
"Okay, I haven't played in a long time, but I have been playing for 30 years, so it's kind of - I try to focus on that."
Asked how she rated her game, she credited her serve for seeing her home and gave herself an "A" for effort.
"I'm just thinking positive. You know, that match is done with. On to the next one. So like I said, A for effort," said the 34-year-old.
Going into the match, the lopsided statistics made the American an overwhelming favourite - she had won 737 Tour matches and 69 singles titles to Giorgi's 248 and one.
And Giorgi's nerves were clearly jangling as she opened with a double-fault as the heat hit 32 deg C on Rod Laver Arena.
But the world No. 36 - the highest ranked non-seed - quickly settled down to hold serve with a scintillating crosscourt forehand.
With Williams' knee giving her problems in the latter half of 2015 and in the lead-up to Melbourne Park, the Italian did her best to push her around the court but the top seed was moving freely and held for 1-1.
Despite her lack of match practice, a focused Williams quickly got into the groove and carved out a decisive break with some powerful groundstrokes to grab a 2-1 advantage.
She held for 3-1 and broke again for 4-1 as the right-hander's confidence appeared to sap, before the Italian regained composure to claw back to 4-2.
It was the start of a mid-set wobble by Williams, who lost the next game and had to recover from 0-30 down on her serve in the eighth to stay on top, screaming "Come on!" as she finally went 5-3 clear. She served out the set in 43 minutes.
A 12-minute opening game in the second set, won by Giorgi, set the tone for a close match with Williams' rustiness starting to show as she failed to find the killer instinct.
It went to 5-5 before she finally got the break she was seeking, serving out to love to seal a hard-fought victory.
Retired two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na believes Williams will be untouchable at the Australian Open and doesn't expect her to quit even if she surpasses Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam titles.
"If Serena Williams wants to win, she can win," Li, 33, told The Australian newspaper yesterday.
Williams dropped only three matches in 56 last season and won three Grand Slams - the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon - before being deprived of a calendar-year Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows.
Even if the American equals Graf's Open-era record and goes on to beat Court's all-time mark, Li does not expect her to retire.
"With the way she is playing right now, I don't think so," said Li, who retired in 2014 to have a baby.
"I don't know about other players but, for myself, I really loved to play against Serena because it was a real challenge for myself.
"I always look forward to playing against tough players because before the match starts you never know what will happen, right?"
Li, an Asian trailblazer whose feats sparked a surge in tennis' popularity across the region, said she missed being on Tour but was content with her new life outside tennis.
"I miss the fight, competition (of tennis) because in the normal life you really don't have much chance for that," she said.
"But I really love the way I have life right now because I will put a lot of teaching time for my baby."
Singles 1st rd:
- Serena Williams (x1) bt Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-5
- Agnieszka Radwanska (x4) bt Christina McHale 6-2, 6-3
- Maria Sharapova (x5) bt Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-3
- Petra Kvitova (x6) bt Luksika Kumkhum 6-3, 6-1
- Carla Suarez Navarro (x10) bt Viktorija Golubic 7-5, 6-4
- Belinda Bencic (x12) bt Alison Riske 6-4, 6-3
- Roberta Vinci (x13) bt Tamira Paszek 6-4, 6-2
- Yulia Putintseva bt Caroline Wozniacki (x16) 1-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4
- Margarita Gasparyan bt Sara Errani (x17) 1-6, 7-5, 6-1
- Elizaveta Kulichkova bt Andrea Petkovic (x22) 7-5, 6-4
- Svetlana Kuznetsova (x23) bt Daniela Hantuchova 6-0, 6-2
- Wang Qiang bt Sloane Stephens (x24) 6-3, 6-3
- Kristyna Pliskova bt Samantha Stosur (x25) 6-4, 7-6 (8/6)
- Lauren Davis bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (x26) 1-6, 6-3, 6-4
- Eugenie Bouchard bt Aleksandra Krunic 6-3, 6-4
Singles 1st rd:
- Novak Djokovic (x1) bt Chung Hyeon 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
- Roger Federer (x3) bt Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2, 6-1, 6-2
- Tomas Berdych (x6) bt Yuki Bhambri 7-5, 6-1, 6-2
- Kei Nishikori (x7) bt Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
- Marin Cilic (x12) bt Thiemo de Bakker 6-7 (4/7), 7-5, 6-2, 6-4
- Gilles Simon (x14) bt Vasek Pospisil 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
- David Goffin (x15) bt Sergiy Stakhovsky 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
- Dominic Thiem (x19) bt Leonardo Mayer 6-2, 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 7-6 (7/0)
- Federico Delbonis bt Ivo Karlovic (x22) 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 2-1 (Karlovic retired)
- Roberto Bautista (x24) bt Martin Klizan 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-2
- Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (x26) bt Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
- Grigor Dimitrov (x27) bt Paolo Lorenzi 6-3, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3
- Andreas Seppi (x28) bt Teymuraz Gabashvili 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 7-6 (12/10)
- Nick Kyrgios (x29) bt Pablo Carreno 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.