NEW YORK—Serena Williams wasted no time in dismissing the competition on Tuesday night. She began by blowing past ESPN pre-match interviewer Pam Shriver with a couple of terse answers, and then kept that momentum up against her opponent on the court, Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski. This was, as we know, Williams’s first appearance at the U.S. Open since she was defaulted from her semifinal with Kim Clijsters two years ago. She looked suitably focused in her return. There were few fist-pumps and no expressions of anguish. The most we got out of Serena tonight was a raised eyebrow and a quick head shake after her own bad play.
And how did Serena play? I don’t think there can be any complaints or concerns. She served well, made her returns, hit the ball cleanly, kept her errors low, and appeared prepared for a tough match. The result was a fast win over an overmatched 19-year-old player who had no way to hurt her. Most telling was a comment by her father, Richard, who said that he wanted his daughter to keep the ball deep because Jovanovski is a “dangerous, dangerous player" with a great forehand. Even before I heard Richard say that, I noted the depth that Serena was getting on the ball, and how she was focusing on that, rather than going for winners. It’s a mindset that would probably work for her against just about anyone—if Serena went for depth and margin, rather than for outright pace, she might be unbeatable.
This match, to my mind, was over in the first game, when Williams hit a hard forehand not too far from the middle of the court. The ball wasn't more than a yard from her, but Jovanovski still struggled to get a racquet on it. From there, Serena had her way, and the Serb pressed, going for shots that weren't there. She had no choice; her normal rally ball was getting pummeled.
Still, Richard was right: Jovanovski is one of the women’s tour’s brighter prospects—she’s not Petra Kvitova, but there aren’t many other teenage hopefuls who have made any kind of dent over the last couple of years.
That's not how it was with Serena. She won her first U.S. Open when she was two years younger than Jovanovski is now; 12 long seasons later, Williams is still slicing her serve down the middle for aces; hammering forehands up the line for winners; and easily tracking down her opponents’ drop shots. Twelve long seasons later, Serena is still head and shoulders—and serves and forehands—above the teens of today.