LONDON — A reporter wanted to know whether Serena Williams contemplates adding more variety to her power-based game.
She did not take kindly to the question’s premise.
“I don’t only play hard tennis. Maybe if you want to get out there, I can show you, like, how I mix things up. I hit a lob today. I’m hitting slices and drop shots, especially more recently,” Williams replied.
“Power’s often extremely good to have in your game,” she continued. “But if I were to sit here and hit every ball hard, my arm would fall off.”
It’s true that Williams does pound serves, up to 121 mph in the first round of Wimbledon on Tuesday. And her groundstrokes are big, too, enough for a 25-5 edge in winners against Mandy Minella of Luxembourg.
It’s also true that Williams has been showing off a soft touch when needed during a winning streak that reached 32 matches — the longest single-season run on the women’s tour in 13 years — with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Minella.
That marked the top-seeded and top-ranked Williams’ return to competition following a little break after winning the French Open on June 8 for her 16th Grand Slam trophy.
It was also her first match on a grass court since winning her fifth Wimbledon title and two Olympic gold medals back-to-back at the All England Club a year ago. That was the beginning of a stretch in which Williams has gone 75-3 and claimed three of the past four major championships.
“You can call her pretty much unbeatable,” the 92nd-ranked Minella said. “She’s playing better than ever. ... Every time she steps on court, you can see why.”
Off the court, things have been a little more hectic for the 31-year-old American lately.
Tuesday’s victory capped a week filled by a headline-grabbing, off-court tiff with Maria Sharapova and a series of apologies stemming from a magazine profile.
Williams and the French coach who’s been helping her for about a year, Patrick Mouratoglou, agreed that she did not have too hard a time setting aside the events of the previous seven days, which included a lot of saying “I’m sorry” — face-to-face with Sharapova, at a news conference, in two statements posted on the web — over things Williams was quoted as saying in a Rolling Stone story.
Williams made a negative reference in a phone conversation to a top-five player’s love life (the piece’s author surmised that it was about Sharapova) and an off-the-cuff remark about a widely publicized rape case in the U.S. that was perceived by some as criticizing the victim.
“It hasn’t been a distraction,” Williams insisted. “I’m just here to focus on the tennis.”
Asked whether she and Sharapova had spoken in the preceding 48 hours, Williams said: “Oh, we’re playing on opposite days, so we don’t really see each other.”
Indeed, the third-seeded Sharapova and Williams are on different halves of the draw and would meet only in the final. Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, was scheduled to play her second-round match Wednesday on Court 2 against 131st-ranked qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal.
Other women slated to play on Day 3: second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champion who twisted her right knee in a first-round victory; 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova; 17th-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States.
Seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was to face Sergiy Stakhovsky on Centre Court, while 2012 U.S. Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up Andy Murray was placed on Court 1.
Murray, of course, is hoping to be the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, but he’s not the only local product still around of the 10 who were in the field at the outset.
Laura Robson, a teenager who beat Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open last year in the final match of the four-time major champion’s career, became the first British woman in 15 years to eliminate a top-10 opponent at Wimbledon by defeating No. 10 Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s hard for all the British players to come in here and, you know, lose first round,” Robson said, “because you just feel extra disappointed.”
Otherwise, order mostly was restored after Monday’s stunning development: the only first-round Grand Slam loss of 12-time major champion Rafael Nadal’s career.
Novak Djokovic dispatched 34th-ranked Florian Mayer of Germany 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, and the only real hitch was when the top-seeded Serb slipped to the Centre Court grass. No. 4 David Ferrer, who reached his first Grand Slam final at the French Open but lost to Nadal, took two falls and said he felt a “little bit of pain” in his left ankle during a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over 101st-ranked Martin Alund of Argentina.
Sam Querrey, an American seeded 21st, lost 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 to 59th-ranked Australian Bernard Tomic in a match most noteworthy for what was said afterward.
Tomic ripped the ATP for barring his father, who is also his coach, from attending tournaments for 12 months because of pending assault charges and said he’ll ask Wimbledon to let Dad attend his next match. Querrey, meanwhile, was miffed that Tomic got a chance to collect himself while being checked by trainers after saying he felt lightheaded in the fourth set.
“I knew he was kind of dizzy, but let’s go; it’s a physical game,” Querrey said. “That’s part of it. If you’re dizzy or hurt, you’ve got to play through it. You can’t just take breaks. That’s not why I lost. But I felt I had some momentum there and that leveled the playing field for the fifth set.”
It’s been difficult for any opponent to keep things close against Williams lately, even if she claimed Tuesday, “I never feel invincible.”
Despite her recent success, and a strong showing against Minella, she and Mouratoglou gave this assessment: There are areas of her game that could use some fine-tuning.
“After today, there’s so many ways that I can improve,” Williams said, “and that I’m going to need to improve if I want to be in the second week of this tournament.”
Really? How about some examples?
“Come on,” Williams replied, tilting her head and smiling.
Here was Mouratoglou’s take after watching Williams win her first 17 service points and compile a 25-5 edge in total winners: “I mean, of course, not everything is perfect yet. It’s interesting to see what we need to work on for the (coming) days.”
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