RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — One destroyed racket — and one poor set — later, Serena Williams made it safely into the third round of the Rio Olympics as she bids for a second consecutive singles gold medal.
The No. 1-seeded American struggled for quite a while Monday night, before emerging with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over France's Alize Cornet, despite making 36 unforced errors and getting broken four times.
Williams started well enough, taking the first three games and compiling 17 of the match's first 21 winners. But then she dropped 5 of 6 games to fall behind 5-4.
During that troublesome stretch, Williams reacted to losing two games in a row by mangling the tool of her trade, slamming it against the back of her green-and-white sideline bench then dismissively depositing it on the ground. Hardly the first time she's done that sort of thing — and likely not the last, either.
In her previous tournament, Wimbledon, Williams broke a racket after losing the opening set of a second-rounder against American Christina McHale. Williams then flung the racket so far behind her that it landed in the lap of a TV cameraman filming the match.
From that point on, Williams didn't drop a set the rest of the way at the All England Club, taking 12 in a row to earn her record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title.
She didn't quite generate that sort of spark Monday, 24 hours after she and older sister Venus lost an Olympic doubles match for the first time. They had been 15-0 with three golds but that streak is now over.
So, too, is Cornet's three-match winning streak against the younger Williams.
But this was touch-and-go for more than an hour. Cornet held a pair of set points in the opener but failed to convert either. Then Williams served for that set at 6-5, only to get broken at love when she double-faulted for the fifth time. And in the tiebreaker, Cornet went ahead 5-4 before Williams claimed the next three points and the set.
She raced to a 3-0 edge in the second set, and that was pretty much that.
No tennis player ever has won two Olympic singles golds — let alone two in a row. But Williams is not just any player, of course. Which is why it was rather remarkable that Cornet, who is ranked only 48th and never made it past the fourth round of a major in 42 appearances, came into Monday with a 4-3 record against Williams, including three head-to-head wins in 2014.