Belfast Telegraph

Serena weathers early storm to offer convincing case for success

Maybe Serena Williams thought she was still at last year's rain-sodden championships. When the players walked out for the first match on Court One the sky was blue and the sun was shining, but the 26-year-old American appeared not to trust the British weather. She was wearing a raincoat.

An individually-designed double-breasted number, maybe, complete with belt, buckles on the wrist and wide lapels, but a raincoat nonetheless.

"I probably have more coats than anybody," Williams explained after her 7-5, 6-3 victory over Kaia Kanepi. "I just love coats. I'm always buying Burberry coats. I don't know why, because I live in Florida. But I was talking to Nike and was wearing this great coat when I walked in. They said: 'We should do a coat like this for Wimbledon.' I said: 'OK. Cool.' Now I have a wonderful white coat I can wear on the court and on those rainy days in New York."

Serena and Venus, her 28-year-old sister, have always done things differently. In the build-up to Wimbledon, for example, they do not practise on grass until they arrive at the All England Club. They have not played at Eastbourne, the traditional warm-up tournament, since 1998. "We just go home and practise on hard courts in the hot sun," Serena said. "We're so ready to leave Florida and we'll do anything we can to stay in the tournament at Wimbledon to avoid having to go back to that heat."

The preparation clearly works, for the sisters have won the title here in six of the last eight years. They have every intention of adding to their list. "We have decades left at Wimbledon," Serena said.

Nevertheless, the younger of the sisters has not won here since her second title in 2003. She was one of the favourites last year following her sensational comeback victory at the Australian Open but suffered a leg injury in the fourth round before going out to Justine Henin in the quarter-finals. Three successive titles this spring at Bangalore, Miami and Charleston indicated another return to form, although going out of the French Open to Katarina Srebotnik in the third round was not part of her plans.

Kanepi provided a stiff test in her first match on grass for a year. The 23-year-old Estonian is out of the Serena mould, her robust frame providing the strength to deliver thumping ground strokes. If less mobile than Williams, who seems to defy gravity to get to so many balls, the world No 36 was still good enough to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open earlier this month, her best run at a Grand Slam tournament.

Two misplaced backhands and a big backhand winner from Kanepi saw Williams 0-40 down on her serve in the first game, but the American held on in what proved to be a crucial opening. "I don't think I had time to play myself into the match," Williams said later. "I needed to get started right away. I played myself into the first game. I'm really excited I was able to win that first game."

Although occasionally beaten by the sheer pace of the ball off the slick turf, Williams was quickly into her stride. The contest was tight with no breaks of serve until Kanepi, at 5-6 and 30-30, lost her nerve. Surprised by Williams' bold charge to the net, the Estonian netted a forehand before handing over the set with a double fault. Two more forehand errors gave Williams the only other break she needed in the fourth game of the second set.

Did Williams feel that a hard-fought win like this would stand her in good stead for the rest of the tournament? "It probably does help me down the road. It definitely wasn't an easy match, though personally I'd prefer to win a match 6-1, 6-1. I've never been a player who prefers tough matches."

Williams, who will next play Poland's Urszula Radwanska, is seeded to meet Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals, but the Russian might struggle to get there. Beaten at the first hurdle by Caroline Wozniacki in Eastbourne, Kuznetsova laboured to a 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 victory here over France's Mathilde Johansson.

Ana Ivanovic, the French Open champion, is the top seed and looked the part in beating Rossana De Los Rios, the world No 103, 6-1, 6-2 in under an hour on Centre Court. Ivanovic had far too much power for the 32-year-old Paraguayan, whose 11-year-old daughter was watching in the stand.

Ivanovic, who reached the semi-finals last year, was pleased with her form. "I think I played quite well today, considering it was the first match, especially on grass," the 20-year-old Serb said. "I had to stay focused. I served really well and that's something that really helped me. I was quite aggressive."

Australia's Casey Dellacqua claimed the first significant scalp of the day when she beat Patty Schnyder, the No 12 seed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. France's Alizé Cornet and Russia's Maria Kirilenko, No 17 and 19 seeds, lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Vera Dushevina respectively.

Serena weathers early storm to offer convincing case for success

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