Williams keeps her pristine record


AT FIRST it seemed to be playing out like a bloodless coup, too quick to think about doing anything about it, too clinical and powerful for any blood or guts to be spilled around Centre Court. There was no evidence either of the staging of a teenage rebellion from 17-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito as she faced Serena Williams, the reigning champion and world number one. Full of puff and feisty effort but short on tactical nous, Larcher de Brito ran herself to a standstill but in the end became just another notch on the Williams racket.

Not in 42 Grand Slam matches has the American lost in the first round and the only time she has lost in the second round was when her sister, Venus, beat her in the 1998 Australian Open.

To that background the Portuguese player handed over the first set 6-0 in just 21 minutes, the last ball, an ace from Williams, punctuating the end of the set. A double bagel (6-0, 6-0) seemed in the offing. But Larcher de Brito’s youth also housed obstinacy and a fiery spirit and in the second set, she went about unsettling the champion with a level of hard ground strokes and aggression that in the end perished to a stronger player but certainly raised Williams heart rate and decibels to the level of a hard work-out. Note to up-and-coming players at Wimbledon. Never, ever try to out power a power player.

It took Larcher de Brito 33 minutes to win her first game in the match early in the second set, which drew the biggest roar from a crowd baking in the still heat. The organisers had even partially closed the roof in an effort to shade the fans seated behind the players as temperatures soared.

Williams, however, didn’t blink. Breaking Larcher de Brito’s service just once, she turned the second set 6-4 in 41 minutes to continue that pristine first-round record.

“She doesn’t look it but she can certainly pack a punch,” said Williams, who seemed more anxious about the arrival of the Queen to the championships on Thursday, her majesty’s first visit since 1977. Quick to prioritise the week ahead, Williams has been working on her curtsy.

“I want it to be more natural. Right now it feels forced. Seems like I’ve never done a curtsy before. But I’m looking forward to nailing it.” You bet she will.

It was also a day for Maria Sharapova, who has essentially been missing for the last two years. The American-based Siberian signed the most lucrative endorsement contract in history for a sportswoman, after agreeing to wear Nike dresses and sun-visors for a further eight years in exchange for in excess of €48 million.

That seems to suggest that the complicated injury to the rotator cuff in her right shoulder, the same one she needs for swinging a racket is on the mend. In both 2008 and 2009, the 2004 champion lost in the second round. But yesterday a 6-1, 6-0 demolition of Anastasia Pivovarova in just 54 minutes was of a different dimension to her recent visits. Her hope for these two weeks is that she is again a force and that she can do some damage at the tournament she won at the age of 17.

“I feel good. My body feels good. I’m in much better match condition than I was last year,” said the much slimmer and toned player. “In tennis you have no one but yourself. I prefer it that way.”


Today's Order of Play

Centre Court(1.00): Llodra (Fra) v Roddick (USA); Makarova (Rus) v V Williams (USA); Djokovic (Ser) v Dent (USA).

Court One(1.00): Clijsters (Bel) v Sprem (Cro); Korolev (Kaz) v Hewitt (Aus); Federer (Swi) v Bozoljac (Ser).

Court Two(12.00): Henin (Bel) v Barrois (Ger); Monfils (Fra) v Beck (Svk); Berdych (Cze) v Becker (Ger); Wozniak (Can) v Jankovic (Ser).

Court Five(12.00): Peer (Isr) v Kerber (Ger); Perry (USA) v Kirilenko (Rus).

Court 12(12.00): Martic (Cro) v Bartoli (Fra); Lopez (Spa) v Berankis (Ltu); Wickmayer (Bel) v Flipkens (Bel); Brands (Ger) v Davydenko (Rus).