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Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Serena Williams into second round

ESPN.com news services

WIMBLEDON, England -- On one point Tuesday at Wimbledon, Serena Williams dumped a forehand into the net and dropped to a knee, her jaw clenched as she let out a shriek.

On another, she pushed a backhand into the net while her feet gave way, yet again leaving her awkwardly splayed on the grass at Court 2, the same place where her sister Venus lost a day earlier.

By the end, the younger Williams was screaming after nearly every point, good or bad -- and, well, there were plenty of both. Her harder-than-the-score-looked 6-2, 6-4 victory over the 62nd-ranked Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova of the Czech Republic in the first round at the All England Club wasn't exactly perfect or pretty.

"Definitely a little relief," the sixth-seeded Williams said. "I was letting out a lot of cries. I was happy to get through that."

Yes, Williams got the job done, something she couldn't say the last time she was at a major championship. Last month at the French Open, the 30-year-old American tossed away a big lead -- nine times, she was two points from victory -- and lost to a woman ranked 111th, the only first-round exit of Williams' career in 48 Grand Slam tournaments.

"I learned that you got to ... keep going," Williams said about that stunning defeat. "I was really disappointed. Obviously, I was extremely disappointed. But as Kelly Clarkson says, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' "

In part because of a series of health scares that sidelined her for about 10 months, Williams has gone two years since the most recent of her 13 major titles, including four at Wimbledon. And even though she bowed out quickly in Paris, Williams is a popular pick to do well this fortnight.

"For me, when I'm playing a match," Williams said, "I either win it or lose it."

Serena Williams
Serena Williams was an emotional victor Tuesday, letting out shrieks and pumping her fists after winning big points.

She'll want to play better than she did against Zahlavova-Strycova, who is 0-21 against top-10 opponents, 13-27 in Grand Slam matches, and never has made it past the third round at any major.

Play was later suspended for the day because of rain and poor light, leaving several matches unfinished. Tenth-seeded Sara Errani, runner-up at the French Open earlier this month, was holding match point in the second set when her match against American qualifier Coco Vandeweghe was halted.

Last year's champion, Petra Kvitova, overcame a shaky start and a late rain delay to open her title defense with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Akgul Amanmuradova.

The fourth-seeded Czech fell behind 3-0 and 4-1 in the first set on Centre Court before running off seven straight games to take command against the 96th-ranked player from Uzbekistan.

After Kvitova squandered a match point at 5-3 in the second set, play was suspended and the covers rolled onto the court -- the first rain break of the tournament.

When play resumed half an hour later, it took just three minutes to wrap up the match. After Amanmuradova won the first two points to hold for 5-4, Kvitova closed out the match at love, hitting a service winner and two aces and forcing a backhand error.

"It was unbelievable to come back here as the defending champion," said Kvitova, who beat Maria Sharapova in last year's final. "In the beginning I think I was nervous -- first match on the grass it's always difficult to know what you can expect. I had a lot of mistakes, and then I tried to play my game and go forward."

The 6-foot-3 Amanmuradova pushed Kvitova with her big serve, but lacked the consistency on her ground strokes and has now lost in the first round of all five Wimbledon appearances.

While Kvitova struggled early in her match, second-ranked Victoria Azarenka overcame a late slipup to beat American Irina Falconi 6-1, 6-4.

The Australian Open champion looked to be cruising when she went up 4-1 in the second set, but allowed Falconi to break twice and keep her chances alive. Azarenka wouldn't allow a comeback, however, converting her second match point when Falconi netted a forehand return.

Azarenka reached the semifinals at Wimbledon last year before losing to Kvitova, while Falconi lost in the first round for the second year in a row.

In early women's play, No. 12 Vera Zvonareva completed a 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Germany's Mona Barthel in a match that had been suspended by darkness at one set apiece on Monday.

Francesca Schiavone, the 24th-seeded Italian, came from behind to overcome 18-year-old British wild card Laura Robson 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, received medical treatment after the first set for an apparent muscle problem. She was down 3-2 and 40-0 in the second set but saved the three break points and turned the match around against the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion.

Last year, Williams questioned why tournament organizers assigned her and her sister to play on Court 2 rather than the larger and more prestigious Centre Court or Court 1. They have, after all, won a total of nine singles championships at Wimbledon and faced each other in four of those finals.

Given that Venus lost in straight sets on Court 2 on Monday, and Serena went through a workout to win there on Tuesday, the issue came up.

"I can't even talk about it. I'm over it," Williams said, raising her left palm. "I just can't talk about that right now. I'm not in the mood."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.