Madrid: S. Williams d. Vesnina
It wasn't obvious, but amidst the metallic courtside boxes and sea of blue clay, there was something old inside Court Manolo Santana. Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" filled the air during a changeover, perhaps the first time the 12-year-old rap hit has ever been heard at a professional sporting event.
There was also Serena Williams, who put forth a vintage performance in a comprehensive, 6-3, 6-1 win over Elena Vesnina that took just over an hour to complete. Aggressive from the onset, Serena led Vesnina in the winner count 15-1 in the eighth game of the match; by the conclusion, the American had tallied 40 winners to her opponent's four.
A great many of those points were by the serve, a timeless Serena speciality. Leading the second set 4-1, Serena served a perfect game, striking four aces despite having to hit a second serve. When a let denied Serena the final ace, she simply swatted another one that didn't graze the tape. Williams finished the session with 13 aces; Vesnina hit one.
But are we also watching a new Serena? I thought about that after seeing the 30-year-old obliterate the field in Charleston and follow that with today's performance, which at times highlighted her defense and counter-punching abilities. Serena's return, a shot that tormented Sam Stosur and Lucie Safarova in South Carolina, didn't suffer from jet lag in Madrid, as Vesnina discovered. There was also a precisely-angled forehand pass from Williams, who was nimble in digging out low shots throughout her opening match. Serena moved extremely well on the blue battue, and mixed placement with power. There was little Vesnina could do if Serena's shots were connecting, which is exactly what happened.
Will the real Serena Williams please stand up? Maybe this refined version is it, and if that's the case, the women's game just got even more interesting. When Vesnina held serve for 3-5 after facing a set point in the first set, she raised her two fists briefly, which to me signaled relief rather than triumph. It turned out to be a moment of foreshadowing, as she'd win just one more game.
After Serena's recent play on clay, it's hard not to wonder if her victories foreshadow something greater. We'll get our answers fairly quickly—Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is next, possibly followed by Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova.