Australian Open: Serena Williams safely through
The American is joined in the second round by Heather Watson who had to dig deep
Serena Williams reacts after winning her Women’s Singles first round match against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Made Nagi/EPA
Williams has only played two competitive matches since the US Open in September and many predicted a tough test against Bencic, under-ranked due to injuries at 59 in the world.
The number two seed, however, showed few signs of rust on Rod Laver Arena, dispatching Switzerland’s Bencic 6-4 6-3 to advance to round two.
Williams will now face the Czech Lucie Safarova in a repeat of 2015’s French Open final, which the 22-time grand slam champion narrowly won in three sets.
After losing in the US Open last four in September, Williams skipped the rest of last year in a bid to overcome a niggling shoulder problem.
Her return in Auckland earlier this month did little to inspire confidence, however, as she was beaten by fellow American Madison Brengle, ranked 72nd in the world.
Bencic has more pedigree, as well as a victory over Williams in their previous meeting in 2015, but she ran into the 35-year-old in defiant mood rather than struggling to rediscover her groove.
Williams hit eight aces — often a strong indicator of her form — and 30 winners, and despite a minor slip-up in the second set, never looked in danger of defeat.
“She was just recently in the top 10 so I knew it would be one of the toughest first-round matches I’ve ever played,” Williams said afterwards.
“She’s a really good player. So I think I was able to start out well. I just wasn’t as aggressive at the end as I was during those games.
“She started playing better. I made a few errors on some key points but for the most part, I still was going for everything and I was able to close it out.”
The 24-year-old Brit joined compatriot Johanna Konta in the second round after a contest lasting two hours and 15 minutes against the 18th seed in Melbourne.
Watson was broken in the first game of the match and again early in the second set but, after several gruelling games, eventually surged clear in the decider.
Stosur, whose defeat extends her disappointing record in her home grand slam, broke Watson in the opening game but the world number 81 swiftly fought back to reel off five straight games.
The Stosur forehand soon began to cave under pressure but it was a missed backhand which gave Watson a crucial second break at 4-2 as she took the opening set 6-3.
The second set also started badly for Watson, as former US Open champion Stosur broke when her opponent netted a routine forehand.
Down 3-1, Watson unsuccessfully challenged a backhand down the line at deuce as she tried to engineer a break back and wasted three break points in a marathon seventh game of the set before Stosur went 5-2 ahead with an ace as she went on to square the contest.
With the backing of the home crowd, Stosur might have expected to carry that momentum into the third set but failed to take advantage of a break point in the first game and found herself 2-0 when Watson produced a sensational forehand down the line at 15-40.
Stosur led 30-0 in the fourth game but suffered another sudden loss of confidence and some tentative play eventually gave Watson a 4-0 lead, with the Brit racing through the next two games to progress.
“I’m very pleased with today,” Watson said on court afterwards. “Sam’s a great player, I’ve played her a couple of times before and she’s beaten me both times.
“I played really well today. There were some very long games; I had a slow start in both the first two sets so I wanted to get off to a good start in the third and make her work for everything, and I think I did.”