Bewildering spins from her opponent, a teasing wind that bounced her pony-tail off her back, and erratic early play conspired to put Serena Williams down a break tonight.
The world No. 1 spent the ensuing changeover stabilizing her hair with a rubber band, thenshe stepped back on the court and put a stranglehold on the match. Taming the unruly elements, Williams reeled off eight straight games in rolling to a 6-3, 6-2 rout of Francesca Schiavone in a battle of the current and former French Open champions.
Serena came into Canada after winning her seventh title of the season on the red clay of Bastad last month and wasn't quite in sync with the faster Toronto track at the outset. Finding her timing was a task made trickier by Schiavone's jolting spins—few women vary the height of their shots as often as the mischievous 2010 Roland Garros champion—and a breeze that occasionally blew the ball askew.
Sometimes it seems that Serena creates obstacles in matches just to jump-start her intensity. She played a sloppy fifth game, spraying a forehand then netting successive backhands as Schiavone bounced to her court-side seat with the first service break and a 3-2 lead.
Serving to consolidate at 40-0, Schiavone barely completed her service motion when Williams' scorching backhand return blurred by. That shot seemed to strengthen Williams and spook Schiavone, who botched a forehand volley on game point and dumped three double faults to drop serve. Williams backed up the break with a love hold for 4-3.
Squandering another 40-0 lead in the ensuing game, Schiavone's serve betrayed her. She blew a game point, with a double fault then netted successive double faults to hand Williams the break and a 5-3 lead. Considering that Serena treated Francesca's serve with such severe disdain—she won 75 percent of the Italian's second-serve points and sometimes overwhelmed her with massive returns right back into the body—and you can't fault Schiavone for gambling on serve. But you can't win if you don't hold, and Schiavone's nine double faults didn't aid the cause.
Quicker off the mark in the second set, particularly when responding to Schiavone's slice backhand, Williams roared out to a 4-0 second-set lead. At that point, Schiavone's adidas baseball cap was saturated with sweat, the WTA patch affixed to her sleeve was dangling off, and the white adhesive tape around her fingers looked frayed from the battering Williams administered during her eight-game run.
The 33-year-old from Milan with inexhaustible exuberance though made a mini-run, hammering an inside-out forehand to hold then sliding a running slice backhand to draw an error and break at love for 2-4. It was a brief uprising, as Serena restored order snapping an overhead to break back, then smacked her fifth ace to reach match point.
"She's a Grand Slam champion. She knows how to win big matches and big points," Williams said in her on-court interview. "I had to focus a little bit more and just play better. "
The 2011 Toronto champion answered the call, closing a 75-minute victory to raise her Rogers Cup record to 20-2 in a match that should be ideal preparation for her meeting with Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens, who defeated Venus Williams, 0-6, 6-4, 6-2, in the opening round.