Serena win is a relief
Four-time champ sluggish in debut
WIMBLEDON, England - On one point Tuesday at Wimbledon, Serena Williams dumped a forehand into the net and dropped to a knee, her jaw clenched as she let out a shriek.
On another, she pushed a backhand into the net while her feet gave way, yet again leaving her awkwardly splayed on the grass at Court 2, the same place where her sister Venus lost a day earlier.
By the end, the younger Williams was screaming after nearly every point, good or bad - and, well, there were plenty of both. Her harder-than-the-score-looked 6-2, 6-4 victory over 62d-ranked Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic in the first round at the All England Club wasn’t exactly perfect or pretty.
“Definitely a little relief,’’ the sixth-seeded Williams said. “I was letting out a lot of cries. I was happy to get through that.’’
Yes, Williams got the job done, something she couldn’t say the last time she was at a major championship. Last month at the French Open, the 30-year-old American tossed away a big lead - nine times, she was 2 points from victory - and lost to a woman ranked 111th, the only first-round exit of Williams’s career in 48 Grand Slam tournaments.
“I learned that you got to . . . keep going,’’ Williams said about that stunning defeat. “I was really disappointed. Obviously, I was extremely disappointed.’’
In part because of a series of health scares that sidelined her for about 10 months, Williams has gone two years since the most recent of her 13 major titles, including four at Wimbledon.
She’ll want to play better than she did against Zahlavova Strycova, who is 0-21 against top-10 opponents, 13-27 in Grand Slam matches, and never has made it past the third round at any major.
Some other top players were sluggish at the start against unheralded foes Tuesday, when action was cut short in the evening because of rain.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, for instance, trailed, 4-0, against 80th-ranked Thomas Bellucci of Brazil before turning it around and winning, 7-6 (7-0), 6-2, 6-3.
Defending women’s champion Petra Kvitova fell behind, 3-0 and 4-1, but eventually used a seven-game run to take control and beat 96th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova, 6-4, 6-4. The match was halted by a 30-minute rain delay in the second set; when they returned, Kvitova needed all of three minutes to wrap things up.
Twelve singles matches were suspended in progress and four were postponed altogether. Among those that began but didn’t finish, 2003 US Open champion and three-time Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick led British wild-card entry Jamie Baker by a set and a break.
Winners included 10th-seeded Mardy Fish of the United States, playing his first match since having a medical procedure on his heart a month ago. The 30-year-old Fish hit 24 aces and defeated Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo of Spain, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 7-6 (7-1), then didn’t attend a postmatch news conference; a tour spokesman said Fish wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t elaborate.
All three Australian men in action Tuesday exited, meaning none reached the second round at the All England Club for the first time since 1938. No. 20 Bernard Tomic, a quarterfinalist at 18 years old in 2011, was knocked out by David Goffin, the Belgian wild-card recipient who took a set off Roger Federer in the fourth round of the French Open; 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt lost to No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; and Matthew Ebden was beaten by Benoit Paire of France.
Wimbledon is considering a calendar change that would have the tournament begin three weeks after the French Open instead of two, and top players like the idea of more time between the two Grand Slam events.
The proposed switch has appeal because it would give players more opportunity to adjust to grass after the clay season ends with the French Open, All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis said. The earliest the change could take place is 2014.