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Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Serena Williams' road opening up

By Melissa Isaacson
espnW.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- It took Serena Williams longer to apologize to Maria Sharapova the other day than it took her to dispatch 92nd-ranked Mandy Minella on Tuesday.

Playing her first match on Wimbledon's Centre Court and her first on grass, Minella, a 27-year-old from Luxembourg who had never taken a set off a top-30-ranked opponent in seven tries at a major and had never even faced a player ranked higher than 34th, was understandably overwhelmed in the first set of her first-round match against the woman who is a 4-9 favorite to win the title, according to Ladbrokes' odds.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams says her first-round win was tougher than it looked.

And indeed, Williams did not give up a point on serve in a 20-minute, 6-1 first set.

But Minella somehow managed to put her nerves aside in the second, actually broke Williams in the second game of the set and had a game point on her serve that would have given her a 3-0 advantage. But Williams broke back at 2-1 and never looked back, closing out the 6-1, 6-3 victory.

Minella walked off blowing kisses and looking thoroughly satisfied, and Williams appeared annoyed at times in what most would consider an easy second set en route to a career-best 32nd straight match victory.

"I feel like I was a little rusty for some reason today," Williams said. "I didn't feel I played my best, and I was really upset when I lost serve in the second set. That said, Mandy played well, mixing up shots and her game. It wasn't an easy match for me, and I was excited I was able to play a tough match and get through it."

It was Williams' first match on grass since her gold-medal-winning performance in the London Olympics, captured on Wimbledon's Centre Court in a 6-0, 6-1 swamping of Sharapova nearly 11 months ago.

Williams had returned to her home in Florida after capturing the French Open title two weeks ago, practicing on hard courts before returning the middle of last week to prepare to defend her title.

"I played a lot of matches on clay this year, more than I think I ever have, and I had a tough time adjusting today," Williams said.

Although she is not likely to require any breaks, the draw is already opening up for Williams as former Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie and former quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek, who looked likely to be her second- and third-round opponents, both lost their first-round matches.

In the fourth round, Williams could meet No. 14 seed Samantha Stosur, who has beaten her at a major twice. And in the quarters, Williams could face No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber, a Wimbledon semifinalist and French Open quarterfinalist in 2012 who defeated Williams last summer at the hard-court Western & Southern Open, which halted Williams' then-19-match winning streak.

Either way, Tuesday was no doubt a nice respite for Williams after this weekend, in which she apologized for comments she made in a Rolling Stone article posted online last week ranging from the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case to Sharapova's love life.

"It hasn't been a distraction," Williams said. "Like I said, I'm just here to focus on the tennis. I'm just here to play Wimbledon, a premier tournament in the world. That's what's most important."