Thursday 20 July 2017

Tennis: Williams plays through pain for landmark win

Serena Williams takes
a breather during her
women's singles
match against
Barbora Zahlavova
Strycova of the Czech
Republic yesterday
Serena Williams takes a breather during her women's singles match against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic yesterday

Simon Briggs in Melbourne

The torn ligaments in Serena Williams's left ankle did not prevent her from reaching a career landmark at Melbourne Park yesterday as she registered a 6-0 6-4 win against the extravagantly named Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

This was Williams's 500th victory on the WTA Tour, a feat she described as "Like the ultimate -- it's really, really cool. The first thing I asked, of course, was if is there was anyone that achieved 1,000?"

No one appears to have told her the answer, though, with Williams unaware that the two great champions of the '70s and '80s, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, had both gone well beyond that landmark.

Williams, whose first victory was in 1997, was not at her best yesterday, as 22 unforced errors would suggest, but a middling performance was enough to account for Strycova, the world No 49 and a two-time former junior champion of this tournament.

The American slipped over awkwardly in the final game of the match, but later shrugged off suggestions that the fall might have exacerbated her condition.

wobbly

"It's fine, I just have really wobbly ankles," Williams said. "I wasn't meant to be a ballerina."

Even when a little out of kilter, Williams still has the ability to intimidate almost anyone in the locker room, with the possible exception of old stagers such as Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova.

As the No 12 seed (a classic example of rankings over-ruling common-sense), she is on course for a quarter-final against Sharapova, who surged past Jamie Hampton in a 6-0, 6-1 victory. But one thing Williams will not now be doing is competing in the mixed doubles as expected with fellow American Andy Roddick.

Roddick cut a dejected figure yesterday as he withdrew after three sets (3-6 6-3 6-4) of his much-anticipated night match against long-time rival Lleyton Hewitt. The cause was a hamstring injury suffered early in the second set, which restricted his movement to what he described as "60 or 70pc extension".

"You can try to ham and egg it against a lot of guys," Roddick added. "But he (Hewitt) is really intelligent. He knew what was going on. You're out there and you're wondering, 'Listen, even if this goes your way, you're not going to play in two days'. So it's a miserable, terrible thing being out there compromised like that. It really sucks."

Earlier, Novak Djokovic had made an untroubled passage to the third round when he beat Santiago Giraldo, of Colombia, 6-3 6-2 6-1.

Djokovic makes his acting bow in the blockbuster 'The Expendables 2' later this year but the defending champion showed he had lost none of his appetite for the day job.

He revealed that he gets into a fight in his movie debut and, if the first film in the series is anything to go by, it is likely to be more of a dramatic tussle than the crowd on Rod Laver Arena witnessed.

"A win is a win however it comes to you. I try obviously to not underestimate any opponents in early rounds," the Serbian said. "Santiago came out early hitting the ball quite flat but I knew sooner or later he's going to drop the rhythm and I just have to hang in there. I've done a good job."

blip

There was a brief blip in the first set, when four unforced errors handed Giraldo a service break, but the world No 1 broke back to love immediately and said there had been no nerves.

"I've had lots of situations where I was a break down in my career so I guess that doesn't affect me, especially early in the first set," he said. "I knew I would start hitting the ball better."

Ticket holders for the first session on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open today should certainly get their money's worth when Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer go back-to-back in third-round matches.

Nadal is likely to be the first man into the fourth round if he can get past Slovakian qualifier Lukas Lacko in the opening clash of the morning followed by Federer's meeting with big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic.

Federer, seeded third to Nadal's second, has had an extra day's rest after Andreas Beck pulled out of their second-round encounter, not ideal for a contender looking to sharpen his game in the first week of a Grand Slam. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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