Yesterday, after perhaps the most tumultuous day in Wimbledon history, the All England Club sent Roger Federer out late in the afternoon to restore order. He returned to the locker room a beaten man. So Wimbledon went to the nuclear option, and sent Serena Williams out first today.
Williams wrangled a stress-free but by no means boring win over French teenager Caroline Garcia in an hour and seven minutes, 6-3, 6-2.
Garcia produced an eye-opening effort that left me wondering why this 5’10” 19-year-old presently ranked No. 100 hasn’t been able to string together back-to-back wins in any tour event this year. She has an excellent serve and a solid ground game; more important, as a competitor Garcia seems mature beyond her years. Having slashed her way through three rounds of qualifying—and an excellent first-round win over Jie Zheng—Garcia was battle-hardened. The statistics don’t give you a very good idea of how well she kept pace with Williams throughout this match, but the eyes don’t lie.
While Garcia never did get to a break point against Williams' serve, it wasn’t due to lack of courage. She resolved to plant herself right on the baseline or just inside it, in order to keep Williams from driving her back through the windscreen chasing serves, or with those deadly inside-out approach shots she likes to follow up with. On a day when Williams put 71 percent of her first serves into play and rained down nine aces, it was a doomed if brave choice.
Garcia opened the match with a hold, and neither woman made a breakthrough until the fifth game, when Williams struck fast and hard. She basically powdered the ball, regardless of where or how hard Garcia served it. The top seed hit three of her signature inside-out winners (two forehands, one backhand) and added an unreturnable cross-court service winner as the coup d’ grace.
After Williams held for 4-2, Garcia played an excellent game to hold. It suggested that should Williams' level decline, Garcia would be there to take advantage of it. The Frenchwoman planted her heels and slugged it out with Williams in that next game. When she fell to the turf (the distraction caused Williams to make a bizarre error), she laughed, tried to get up, slipped again—and continued to smile.
What, a WTA player with no desire to create gut-wrenching drama?
Serving to stay in it at 3-5, Garcia hit an ace but then made a pair of forehand errors to fall behind 15-40. But she fended off the first two set points, one with a service winner and the other an excellent attack-and-volley. She battled Williams through three deuces, playing surprisingly effective, aggressive tennis, before capitulating to yet another unreturnable inside-out forehand.
There aren’t many women who can lose a set to Williams and then run neck-and-neck with her for a good portion of the next set, but that’s just what Garcia did. She wasn’t broken until the sixth game, and it tells you something that it was Williams’ seventh break point of the match, but just the third she converted successfully.
Williams then held with ease for 5-2, and in the next game Garcia jumped out to a 40-15 lead. But Williams battled back to deuce, blocked a hold-point by Garcia, and won the match off a rally error from her opponent on match point.
It seemed like Wimbledon once again. The message was clear: never send a man to do a woman’s job.
IBM Stat of the Match: Put this down as a real puzzler that probably says more about Serena’s appetite for taking big cuts than the quality of Garcia’s serve: Garcia put in 75 percent of her first serves, but won a higher percentage of her second-serve points—56 percent to 51.
IBM is a proud sponsor and official technology partner for Wimbledon. For more information on this match, including the Keys to the Match, visit IBM's SlamTracker.