Serena Williams has the yips.
You saw it much in 2016. Double faults on match points. Footwork going out the door. Pained look on the face.
On Tuesday at the Australian Open, leading Belinda Bencic 6-4, 5-0, it was another trip to Yip Town for the current world No. 2.
Bencic held for 1-5. Serena dropped serve. Bencic held at love. Serena double faulted on match point before finally closing it out. Win one for the yipper.
“She’s such a great player, was in the Top 10, so it was probably the toughest first-round match I’ve ever played,” said Williams after the 6-4, 6-3 win.
The 19-year-old Swiss had won their last meeting, but this was a different Bencic who looked less than fit after dealing with a few nicked-up injuries of late. This time a year ago Bencic was ranked No. 7, but it appears 2017 will be a battle with the body (wrist and back, specifically) rather than opponents for the oft-injured Swiss.
Serena next progresses to another tester, this time lefty former Top 10er Lucie Safarova, who on Tuesday survived nine match points to beat Belgian Yanina Wickmayer.
Also into the second round from the Top 10 were No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska working past Tsvetana Pironkova 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 in the final night match; No. 5 Karolina Pliskova blasting Spain’s Sara Sorribes 6-2, 6-0; No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova over Czech Denisa Allertova 7-5, 6-2; and No. 9 Johanna Konta subduing Kirsten Flipkens 7-5, 6-2.
“I’m very happy to have come through, I think more specifically to difficulties that my opponent presented today more so than the weather,” Konta said after defeating the tricky Flipkens. “I mean, it was hot, but last week in Sydney, we experienced something a lot hotter. So I think it was always cool in comparison.”
Konta will next face another tough one against last year’s semifinalist and rising star Naomi Osaka, who on Tuesday survived Luksika Kumkhum 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-5.
Pliskova allowed only two games to her opponent, and is not allowing the talk of being a title contender to be a distraction.
“I’ve heard a few things, but I’m not thinking about this,” said Pliskova, who was +8 on the day winners to unforced errors. “I just don’t want to get it into my head. I just want to continue in those things what I was doing the second half of the year last year and even in Brisbane. Obviously I know that people are talking somehow, especially at Grand Slams and stuff. But it’s not really important for me, these things.”
Pliskova said she didn’t deal well with the pressure of expectations after reaching the US Open semifinals, but now has a better mind-set.
“I feel 100 times better than I felt before the US Open,” she said. “So this thing is already gone, the scariness of the second week and thinking about how I have to pass the third round. Even if I don’t do it here this week, I know I have been there, so it’s really different this time. It doesn’t mean that I’ll be in the second week of every Grand Slam for sure; it can happen that I still lose, but definitely I feel better with this pressure what I had before.”
Additional seeded winners were No. 12 Timea Bacsinszky who needed three to beat Camila Giorgi, No. 14 Elena Vesnina, No. 16 Barbora Strycova, No. 17 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 21 Caroline Garcia, No. 22 Daria Gavrilova who edged Brit Naomi Broady 7-5 in the third, No. 28 Alize Cornet who defeated France’s Myrtille Georges 6-1 in the third, No. 30 Ekaterina Makarova who survived Russian countrywoman Ekaterina Alexandrova in three, and No. 31 Yulia Putintseva.
On the upset tip in the warm conditions were Brit Heather Watson taking out No. 18-seeded Aussie Samantha Stosur 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, and American Nicole Gibbs ousting No. 25 Timea Babos 7-6(3), 6-4.
“You get a bit sick of this feeling,” said Stosur, who crashed out 6-0 in the third with a -12 in winners to unforced errors. “You’re disappointed — you’re upset, angry. I feel like I’ve done everything I can to try and prepare as best as I can. I gave it my best shot and it didn’t happen again.”
Matches of interest on a light Wednesday in Melbourne are the all-German (1) Angie Kerber vs. Carina Witthoeft, an upset alert with Alison Riske vs. (20) Shuai Zhang, and (31) Venus Williams vs. Stefanie Voegele.
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