Top-ranked and top-seeded Serena Williams' opening match at Wimbledon appeared to accurately reflect what her controversy-laded life has been like these days. Alternately brilliant, erratic, powerful, discontented, indomitable, she made short work of Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella—a 27-year-old pro who has yet to win a WTA match on grass—in under an hour, winning 6-1, 6-3.
The most you can say for Williams’ easy yet not entirely convincing win is that she was consistent in her inconsistency. She played a dazzling first set in which she completed the easy half of a “golden set,” winning every single point she served. But in the second set, she was broken in the first game she served and sprayed balls all over the court.
You’ll remember that last year, Serena served more aces (102) than any player, male or female, over the course of the tournament. That’s an average of 14 and change per match; today, Serena delivered half that number. Can you imagine what the score might have been like had Serena played up to snuff?
Alright, we all know that such comparisons get silly; you only need to beat the person in front of you in any given match, and doing it without hitting an ace is preferable to raining down a dozen or more aces and losing. Still, Serena will leave the grounds today wanting to tighten up and tinker with certain things rather than merely relegating them to a cool, dry place until her next match.
Serena demonstrated that she meant business from her first serve, a signature ace wide. Bang, bang, bang, just like that she was up 1-love, and she broke just as swiftly. By the time Minella finally held for 1-3, her success rate on her own service points was a disturbing 50 percent (six for 12).
At 5'11", the lithe and limber Minella has a smooth game, but her serve isn’t what it might be given her physical attributes. Her best serve today clocked out at 107 M.P.H., far below Serena’s typically eye-opening 121 M.P.H. On a day when Serena would get 73 percent of her first serves into play (compared to just 48 percent for Minella), that spelled trouble.
But everything about Serena’s game looked good in the first set. You could count the duration of her service games in seconds, not minutes. She lashed out with her returns, the ball making a deeper, more hollow “pop” as it leaped off her strings. It was all over in 19 minutes.
But Minella didn’t lose her composure. She fired her fastest serve—and only ace—in the game that started the second set, and held. And after serving at an 85 percent conversion rate in the first set, Serena’s arm began to misfire. A second serve at 30-all led to a smash winner by Minella, and Serena then uncharacteristically whacked a double fault to be broken for 0-2.
But Minella was unable to consolidate that break. She climbed out to a 40-30 lead in the next game, but Serena fired a cross-court backhand winner to end the next rally and reach deuce. Minella then made a backhand error and demonstrated that whatever Serena could do, she could do as well: She double-faulted away the game.
Back on serve, Serena broke again after a quick hold. Her hand was firmer on the tiller once she was back in control, and she made fewer extravagant errors. She broke again as Minella served to stay in it at 3-5. Minella battled through two deuces in that last game and swept aside a match point, all before she drove a rushed backhand into the net at deuce, then made a forehand error on Serena’s second match point.
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