Serena Williams was streaking toward a shutout when she collided with a glimpse of disaster. Racing to her right for a running forehand, Williams’ orange Nike shoe stuck to the blue court like fly paper, causing her to roll her right ankle and crash to the court, and the concerned fans in Hisense Arena to draw a collective gasp.
Williams spent more than 90 seconds on her back staring straight up at the sky, her hopes of pursuing a sixth Australian Open title seemingly up in the air after that scary fall in the fifth game of today's opening-round match.
Serena climbed off the court, took about an eight-minute injury time out to have her right ankle re-taped, then returned to play and reeled off eight consecutive games to seal a 6-0, 6-0 dress-down of an overmatched Edina Gallovits-Hall.
Leave it to Serena to transform what looked to be a significant stumbling block into a launching pad.
Though the world No. 3 scored her 54th win in her last 56 matches, the injury raises questions about the 31-year-old's status. Will the 15-time Grand Slam singles champion, who took the court as a strong favorite to capture her third consecutive major and succeed Chris Evert as the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking, be healthy enough to continue that quest?
Conceding that she was “really, really close to panicking” after tumbling to the court, Williams vowed she will play on.
“I haven’t had enough time to assess it yet so we’re just going to see how it is in a few hours from now,” Williams told the media. “I’ll be out there unless something fatal happens to me; there’s no way I’m not going to be competing…I’m here to play.”
A year ago, Serena rolled her left ankle in Brisbane and was hobbled in suffering a 6-2, 6-3 loss to 56th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round of the Aussie Open. Memories of the Brisbane fall rushed back into Williams' mind after she went airborne when holding a 4-0, 0-30 lead today.
"It was definitely a lot of pain and also the memory (of Brisbane) and also at the same time trying to gather myself together to make sure I can continue," Serena said.
When play resumed, Williams amped up the power of her drives, drilling a pair of forehand winners to break for 5-0. Seeking to end points quickly to limit the stress on her ankle, Williams moved carefully, but her arm was loose as she threw down a smash for triple set point, sealing the opening set two points later.
Minimizing her movement, Williams played closer to the lines and received cooperation from Gallovitz-Hall, who hit her sixth double fault in dropping serve for the fourth time. Williams consolidated at 30 and showed her hops on the creaky ankle, bouncing off the court to throw down a smash as she broke at love to stretch her lead to 3-0. Though she wasn't consistently powering up into her serve, Williams won 12 of 14 points played on her serve in the second set to score her 15th consecutive major win.
Serena rose from the fall to survive this test. But a decade after completing the "Serena Slam", Williams' degree of difficulty for regaining the title has suddenly spiked. She says she's up for the challenge.
"I think sometimes what you don’t know cannot hurt you," said Serena. "I have to adapt and I think it will be a good challenge to mentally adapt."