MELBOURNE • Serena Williams began her quest for a 23rd Grand Slam title in style yesterday, overcoming the threat from Swiss star Belinda Bencic in an Australian Open performance she modestly rated as "pretty good".
The American great, who lost the top ranking to Angelique Kerber last year, defeated the unseeded 19-year-old 6-4, 6-3 at the Rod Laver Arena as she hunts down a seventh Melbourne Park crown.
"She is a great player, recently rated in the top 10. It really was one of the toughest first round matches I have ever played," Williams said of the world No. 59. "I knew I had to be strong."
Asked how she rated her form, she said: "I think it was pretty good. She's a really good player, so I think I was able to start out well.
"I made a few errors on some key points, but for the most part, I still was going for everything and I was able to close it out."
The nerviest moments for the world No. 2 came late in the first set and again when it came time to close out the match.
Melbourne Park Snippets
STAT OF THE DAY
Number of years spanning Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s two wins at the Australian Open. Yesterday, the 34-year-old beat China’s Wang Qiang 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to make the second round at Melbourne Park for just the second time. She defeated Australian Rennae Stubbs 7-5, 6-1 in the first round in 1998.
Tied at 4-4 in the first, she won the first point of the game with a full-stretch backhand, sliced cross-court, that was both spectacular and highly unusual.
A little lucky, too, in that it came off the string bed near the top of her racket's frame.
HEAT? WHAT HEAT?
I train in Florida mostof the time. I actually thought it waspretty cool today for Australia!
HEATHER WATSON, British tennis player,on defeating home favourite Sam Stosur 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 in 36degC heat at Melbourne Park.
"After playing so many years, you deserve a little bit of luck," said Williams, whose new fiance, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, was watching from the stands.
Williams, who lost last year's final to Kerber, came into the opening Grand Slam of the year with question marks over her form.
She has barely played since the US Open last September due to injury, and her build-up was set back when she was bundled out of this month's Auckland Classic in the second round.
But any doubts were quickly put to rest as she eased her way into the next round.
She will come up against Lucie Safarova, who saved nine match points before beating Belgian Yanina Wickmayer in their first round encounter.
The Czech won 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1 against the flummoxed Wickmayer, who said she was feeling "definitely not good" after letting slip so many opportunities.
"It's not fun," said the Belgian, adding: "I think she served very well on certain points and other points I didn't go for enough."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES