Roland Garros: S. Williams d. Tatishvili

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Serena Williams may have claimed not to remember very much about last year’s first-round defeat to Virginie Razzano, but it loomed large in everybody else’s minds as she returned to Roland Garros to begin her quest for the Slam title that has most often eluded her. Whether that long-drawn-out scream of agony of a match will return to haunt her later in that tournament remains to be seen, but if it can be comprehensively erased it will have started here, with a resounding 6-0, 6-1 defeat of Anna Tatishvili in 51 minutes.

In many ways, Tatishvili was an ideal opponent, a solid ball-striker who has been struggling with injuries and, before last week’s Strasbourg quarterfinal appearance, hadn’t won a match since January. The Georgian was, for most of the match, merely grist to the mill of a focused and outwardly calm Serena, who lost just seven points in a 20-minute, shutout set.

Although she started the match with a couple of quickfire winners, it was an almost exaggeratedly cautious performance from Williams, playing with plenty of height, spin, and margin, leaning heavily on her backhand to dictate from the baseline in a pattern of play perfectly suited to the sluggish conditions. We can say that she is striking the ball well and accurately and serving consistently by her own stellar standards, striking eight aces and serving at 73 percent for the match, but this is not surprising given her now 68-3 record since the Razzano loss. It’s difficult to judge how well Serena is moving, on the other hand, because for the most part she didn’t have to move very much.

As the second set opened, Tatishvili was visibly searching for simple, first-strike patterns of play, but couldn’t execute well enough off Williams’ fine returning and was quickly broken to fall 0-3 behind. The writing was not just on the wall, but in six-foot neon letters.

Still, Tatishvili took a leaf out of Williams’ book and started to play more patiently. She was rewarded with her first winner and first service hold after Williams could not quite grapple with a second serve into the body. At 1-4, Williams hit a first drop shot to take a 0-40 lead, only for Tatishvili to claw her way back to deuce, the first and really only hint of a real contest. On the fourth deuce of an eight-minute game, Tatishvili grimly battered Williams with her backhand to get the world No. 1 finally off-balance and dropping the ball short. Tatishvili had an open court and an easy putaway, but hit the ball back to Williams instead, and lost the point. The game and the match followed shortly afterwards.

Tatishvili’s chance to get something going in the match was swiftly relegated to the realm of might-have-beens, along with Williams’ 2012 Roland Garros campaign. Indeed, what Serena’s past year of tennis might have looked like had she not begun what has proved to be a fruitful collaboration with Patrick Mouratoglou in the wake of that defeat. Far from being really tested in today’s match, her outward calm and ominous dominance bodes well for tougher tests ahead.

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