Anyone who wants to make any unwise pronouncements about the likelihood of Serena Williams capturing her fifth Wimbledon title on the strength of her so-so first round performance on Tuesday might want to do some rapid rethinking.
The No.6 seed roared through the first set of her second round match against Melinda Czink as if she had a really urgent early afternoon appointment, which she was desperate to keep. When the world No.98 stepped up her game in the second set, Williams took her on with quality and enthusiasm. On a humid and blustery Centre Court, Williams’s 6-1, 6-4 win in 61 minutes laid down a marker to future opponents this fortnight.
The first set seemed to go by in a flash. No game was faster than the very first, in which Serena sent down four unreturned serves to hold in less than a minute. Czink managed to hold, but could make scarcely any impression on the Williams serve, aided by the fact that Serena would ultimately deliver seven aces in this one set.
At 1-2 the 29-year-old Hungarian double-faulted for 30-all, and her opponent brought up break point by sending the ball down the line at the end of a long rally. An unforced error from Czink handed over the advantage, and it was already clear that something fairly extraordinary was required if she was to rescue the set, such was Williams’s supremacy on her own serve.
Instead the 13-time Grand Slam champion racked up another three break points for 4-1 at a near-stroll, and on the second of those Czink sent the ball both wide and long. Her luck changed briefly next game, when she was adjudged again to have missed the line to create three set points, until she challenged and HawkEye found in her favour. But an ace on the next point left no room for doubt, and Williams took the set lunging successfully at the net to reach an attempted cross-court pass.
The entire set took 20 minutes. Serena won every one of her first serve points and delivered 13 winners to Czink’s two. No wonder the Hungarian was in trouble. But it is not yet a month since Williams arrived at Roland Garros as the joint favourite for the title – along with Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova, exactly as here – only to lose from a winning position in the first round to Virginie Razzano.
So when Czink upped the ante at the start of the second set, Williams would have been respectful and wary. Of course the Hungarian’s serve was always under threat, but she fought off a break point in each of her first two service games, and this time they required as much time to get to 2-2 as they had to complete the entire first set. Czink held on, but Williams was up for the fight and when another chance to break came her way at 4-4, this time she forced home the point to make it count, and then closed out her service to love for the match.
“Serving-wise, this match was definitely more consistent,” Williams said afterwards. “Something to be happy about. I’m feeling very good physically, but I play really good when I’m relaxed. If I can just relax, I do better. I’m not sure how far I am off my peak now.”
And she was happy to comment on Gilles Simon’s contention that women players should not receive the same prize money as the men, especially when she learned of Maria Sharapova’s observation that far more people watch her matches than Simon’s.
“Definitely a lot more people watch Maria,” she smiled. “She’s way hotter than he is. Women’s tennis is really awesome. I’ve worked just as hard as he does, and I’m sure he continues to work hard, as everyone on a professional level does. He’s entitled to his opinion.”