World No. 1 Serena Williams struggled with an old nemesis for a set on Thursday at the Australian Open, then introduced 2015 to the Russian veteran by dropping the hammer to move into the third round in Melbourne.
Facing Vera Zvonareva, the oft-tearful Russian who has beaten her twice in her career, the younger Williams sister was forced to fight to a 7-5 first set win before baking a bagel in the second set for a final 7-5, 6-0 tally.
“I had no other option but for things to click,” said Serena, who trailed 3-5 in the first and ended up fighting off three set points. “I just had to start playing better…You have to be ready for anyone at any stage. And playing Vera is like, I had to get my mind like, ‘Serena, this girl has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world, she’s been on the tour and she’s a very quality player, she knows what to do. She knows how to win.’ So I had to kind of snap into that kind of mentality on the court today.”
Serena will next meet WTA Rising Star award winner and No. 26 seed Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine, who edged unseeded American Nicole Gibbs 7-6(3), 7-6(6).
Williams sibling Venus was also a winner on Thursday, defeating diminutive young American countrywoman Lauren Davis 6-2, 6-3.
“Honestly, I think I understand the game a lot more,” said the 34 year old, who seems to have a handle on her energy-sapping Sjogren’s syndrome, last year losing in the first round in Melbourne. “Even when I’m not playing as well, I think I’m able tactically to be more strategic than even, let’s say, Venus of 2000. So that’s one of the beauties of continuing to play as you get a lot of the years under your belt.”
Venus will face another young riser in the next round in Italian Camila Giorgi, who defeated Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-4.
Unseeded former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka led the upsets on Thursday, showing she is back, if not back to top-player form, with a 6-4, 6-2 dismantling of No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniacki.
“At the end of the day she played better than me today, and hats off to that,” Wozniacki said. “I just need to go back and work hard. It’s early — still the beginning of the year. So I have 10 months to make up for this. Hopefully it’s still going to be a good year for me this year.”
Azarenka’s next opponent will be fellow big-hitting No. 25 seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who dispatched of Taiwan’s Chang Kai-Chen 6-1, 7-5.
Other seeded winners Thursday were No. 4 Petra Kvitova quietly moving through the draw after a 6-2, 6-4 win over Mona Barthel of Germany; No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova regaining form, beating Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova 6-2, 6-0; No. 19 Alize Cornet outlasting unheralded Czech Denisa Allertova 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-2; No. 24 Garbine Muguruza Blanco beating veteran Daniela Hantuchova in a see-saw 6-1, 1-6, 6-0 encounter; and No. 30 Varvara Lepchenko hanging on to defeat Croat Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 7-6(1).
Kvitova will next face unseeded American Madison Keys, who was a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 upset winner over No. 29 seed Casey Dellacqua.
Another unseeded American winner was Madison Brengle, who rolled past fellow American Irina Falconi 6-1, 6-3 to set up a meeting with the Thursday late-night winner between No. 20 seed Sam Stosur and CoCo Vandeweghe.
Friday’s women’s highlights in Melbourne include (7) Eugenie Bouchard vs. French riser Caroline Garcia, (2) Maria Sharapova vs. (31) Zarina Diyas, and (3) Simona Halep vs. American all-courter Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
TENNIS-X NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS
The Williams sisters pulled from the doubles prior to their Wednesday opening-round match without any initial explanation…Nick Kyrgios on his on-again off-again relationship with Aussie professional development head Patrick Rafter: “It’s pretty good, as far as I know. We got pretty close in Perth, as you guys know as well. I think it’s good. We’re learning each other. Especially over the IPTL. I got to know him a lot better off the court as well. He only wants to see the best out of us guys. So that’s good.”…There were 15 five-set matches on the men’s side in first two days of the Australian Open…Li Na announced she is pregnant…Tomas Berdych announced his engagement to his model girlfriend Ester Satorova during a Channel Seven interview in Australia. ATP World Tour staff broke the story on their website with the headline, “Berdych Engagement Nearly Foiled By Bad Weather.” That’s some groundbreaking investigative shit…Li Na speaking to CNN: “Honestly, I would like the world to forget me. Because, if they always remember me, that will mean that Chinese tennis hasn’t grown up.”…Roger Federer said he first kissed wife Mirka in Australia…Canuck Genie Bouchard on countryman Milos Raonic’s fabled hair: “I made fun of his hair last year. I don’t know how it’s different now. I just think he just spends way too much time worrying about his hair.”…Victoria Azarenka on what she doesn’t like and likes about Australia: “I actually don’t like Vegemite. It’s probably one of the things…I love the energy of people here. Really, I think the whole country is like sport nation…I don’t know, I guess like I’m going to adopt an Aussie kid or something like that.”…Stan Wawrinka if he would have given Rafa the call late in the fifth set like Tim Smyczek did: “I don’t know. Let’s see. Yeah, I don’t know. You cannot answer that. After four hours of match you don’t know what’s in your mind. Sometimes you react just like that. So it’s not like you don’t ask you that question when it’s happening. You just do it.”
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