US Open: Serena gets an unexpected break

Serena Williams was hardly tested in the first round of the US Open as her opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko, was forced to retire in the second set because of injury.
Serena Williams was hardly tested in the first round of the US Open as her opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko, was forced to retire in the second set because of injury.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Serena Williams spent about an hour on a practice court in the late afternoon on Monday in preparation for her first-round match of the US Open.

She pounded groundstrokes and serves, smashed some overheads, punched home a few volleys and even chased a handful of drop shots. It was the hardest the world No. 1 worked all day.

Two hours later, she was on and off the court in barely 30 minutes.

Her first-round opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia, retired in the second set with a leg injury after Williams had won the first eight games of the match.

In the first set, the American won more games than the world No. 86 won points (five).

So began the final stages of Williams' pursuit of a Grand Slam.

It is among the most difficult achievements in sports - winning all four Major tournaments in a calendar year. Easy days like this feel almost like a first-round bye, a welcome respite in an eight-month quest for history.

"It was definitely different and bizarre," the 21-time Major singles champion said of the truncated match. "But, at the same time, I was still focused.

"I kept thinking: Just stay focused. Don't lose it. You never know what can happen."

She will next play Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands who beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Williams'coach Patrick Mouratoglou revealed that the top seed is relaxed as she seeks to become the sixth person to win a Grand Slam.

Don Budge was the first in 1938 - and Steffi Graf was the last, back in 1988.

"I think she's quite relaxed," he said. "Her focus every day at every event has gone to another level.

"That focus makes her a more consistent player. This gives her more options when she gets into a tough match. She's able to win more matches because of it."

The Frenchman added that the 33-year-old's biggest target is Graf's Open Era record 22 career Grand Slam singles crowns.

"If it doesn't happen here, it will happen next year at Australian Open or Roland Garros. Serena has many opportunities to do this one," he told ESPN.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Serena gets an unexpected break'. Print Edition | Subscribe