CINCINNATI • Serena Williams put herself back on the winning track in the American's final warm-up event before the US Open, with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in her opening match at the Cincinnati Open on Wednesday.
While the defending champion enjoyed a successful return to Ohio, Carolina Wozniacki, whom Williams beat in the final at Flushing Meadows last year, continued her poor build-up for New York with a straight-sets loss to Victoria Azarenka.
Williams prevailed in 90 minutes and showed none of the uncharacteristic struggles that dogged her during last week's semi-final loss to Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic in Toronto.
The world No. 1, who will aim for a rare sweep of the four Grand Slam events at the Aug 31-Sept 13 US Open, broke Pironkova's serve once in each set and then sealed victory in style with her 15th ace of the second-round match.
"There wasn't anything really tactical in particular for me today, I always just try to play my game and be consistent and stay focused," Williams, who improved to 44-2 in 2015, said in a courtside interview.
The American will meet Karin Knapp in the third round, after the Italian advanced with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Russia's Daria Gavrilova.
Williams is skipping next week's Connecticut Open in order to prepare for the US Open, where she will look to earn her fifth consecutive Grand Slam singles title.
"There's definitely a lot of pressure... I would like to win the Open, probably more than anyone else," she said.
"Whether I win or not, I'm going to try to win it again next year and just keep going after that. So, it's not the end of the world."
In the evening session, Azarenka continued her dominance of Wozniacki when she eased past the fifth seed 6-0, 6-4.
Though ranked well below her opponent due to an extended injury lay-off, it was the fifth consecutive straight-sets victory for the world No. 21 over the Dane.
Wozniacki had her chances in the second set but frittered away 10 of 11 break points, while the Belarussian converted two of her four chances.
The Dane, who has fallen at the first hurdle against three different opponents the past three weeks, has been granted a wild-card entry into next week's Connecticut Open in an effort to find some form before heading to the US Open.
Fourth seed Petra Kvitova also bowed out, the Czech beaten 5-7, 6-4, 2-6 by France's Caroline Garcia, leaving the women's event with just two of the top five seeds.
Garcia will meet 14th seed Elina Svitolina in the next round after the Ukrainian edged out the slumping Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 as the Canadian's woeful season continued.