Thursday, May 28, 2009

Serena struggles but survives early scare

Serena jumps for joy

Serena Williams had to draw on all her experience and natural fighting instincts to avoid an embarrassing first-round exit at the hands of unheralded Czech Klara Zakopalova. The US No2 seed finally booked her spot in the second round after 2 hours 32 minutes with a 6-3 6-7(5) 6-4 win.

Serena may have been a shadow of her former self this clay-court season, losing all three matches so far including a three-set defeat to Zakopalova in Marbella last month, but few expected the former champion to be threatened by her eastern European opponent on the Grand Slam stage. As it turned out, Serena was left jumping in sheer relief when she finally took her ninth match point.

The former world No1 looked uncomfortable throughout, alternatively annoyed at her incessant unforced errors, the blustery weather conditions and her general inability to impose her game. Zakopalova in contrast stuck admirably to her task, never allowing herself to be put off a game plan that involved moving Serena around the court as much as possible, and can take great heart from a performance that belied her ranking of 100 in the world.

Serena took the first set relatively comfortably but after squandering four match points in the second, finally paid the price in the tiebreak for hitting too many unforced errors, notably on the backhand side.

Without ever finding her rhythm, Serena’s harder hitting power earned her more match points that she missed at 5-3 before finally clinching victory when the brave Zakopalova drilled a forehand wide at 5-4.

The younger Williams survives therefore, but she will be the first to admit that she needs to perform a whole lot better if she is to mount a serious challenge for a title which has eluded her since 2002 and the start of her "Serena Slam".

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