John Pye, AP
IF ANYTHING, IT was the insects buzzing around Rod Laver Arena that bugged Serena Williams the most.
The injured left ankle held up fine in her opening match Tuesday at the Australian Open, and even the near-midnight start time was OK. But the bugs?
“I hate bugs more than you can imagine,” Williams said after reaching the second round by beating Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-2. “Like, they kept jumping on me. Yuck!”
The match started at 11:32 pm, and Williams hit a service winner 79 minutes later to finish it off. Between points, though, she picked up and moved or shooed away bugs that landed on court, and two that landed on her back. A big one gave her a fright, making her hop as she tried to stifle a screech.
“I’m going to request not to play at night anymore because I hate bugs, except for the final. I heard it’s at night,” Williams said. “I’ll try to get used to them.”
Two years after she won her last Australian Open title, Williams extended her winning streak to 15 matches at Melbourne Park in the season’s first major tournament. She won titles in 2009 and 2010 but missed the chance to defend her title last year amid a prolonged injury layoff.
The match started late start because Williams and Paszek had to wait until the conclusion of a 4-hour men’s night match won by Leyton Hewitt. And it was her first match since badly spraining her ankle two weeks ago at the Brisbane International, an injury that jeopardized her participation in Melbourne. Monday was the first time she was able to practice pain free, but she still had her lower left leg and ankles heavily taped.
“I don’t let anything bother me,” she said. “It’s definitely different to have the ladies play so late, you know, so we’ll see.”
Williams was playing only her third match since losing the U.S. Open final to Sam Stosur last September, so she admitted being “a wee bit tight.”
She maintained her run of never losing in the first round of a major, overcoming a low-key start to get the decisive first-set break in the eighth game. She broke Paszek in the fifth game of the second set, then served four aces in the next game that lasted less than a minute as she hurried to the finish.
“Physically I felt fine. I was definitely moving better than I suspected,” Williams said. “I still think I can move better, though, and just get that confidence.
“I definitely think it was good because I moved a lot and I challenged myself a lot. She made a few drop shots. She really pushed me physically. I think that’s really something I needed to kind of feel and assess my ankle.”
Williams conceded it wasn’t easy to get herself ready.
“I’m doing everything possible that I can, things I’ve never done, just to get it better,” she said, declining to elaborate on her therapy except to say it involved a lot of ice and experience from recovering from other injuries. “But it is a very, very, very bad sprain. So I’m just playing it by ear.”