Rome: S. Williams d. Petkovic
Serena Williams, perhaps the only Grand Slam champion who can spend her spare time moonlighting as a certified nail technician, knows how to accessorize. The world No. 1 took the court today without the heavy taping that wrapped her strained left thigh in Madrid last week, then she spent the next 76 minutes transforming a fashion statement into fitness affirmation.
Moving quickly and striking sharply, Williams won nine of the first 11 games in a 6-2, 6-2 dress down of Andrea Petkovic.
Playing without restraint in her first match since withdrawing from the Madrid quarterfinals, the defending champion came out cracking the ball with such depth, sometimes her movement was limited to walking from one side of the court to the other following winners. Blasting a backhand return winner down the line on the first shot she struck, Serena broke at love to open the match, backed up the break with a hold at 30, and consistently forced Petkovic to play off the back foot. She burst out to a 4-0 lead after just 18 minutes.
A swirling wind and funky patches near the baseline induced a few berserk bounces from the ball. That didn't seem to faze Williams, who applied more spin—frequently mixing topspin and sidespin—when curling her forehand cross-court to stretch the 28th-ranked German into defensive positions. One such shot gave the top seed a 5-1 lead.
Williams' early racquet preparation and attention to footwork helped her combat the wind and keep optimal space between her body and the ball. Her open-stance backhand was a weapon as well. She ended one of the best side-to-side exchanges of the set with a backhand off the baseline to take the 34-minute opener.
Both women served 68 percent, but Williams won 13 of 17 points played on her first serve, while Petkovic, put under pressure from deep returns, won just 42 percent (eight of 19) of her first-serve points.
Punishing the Petkovic forehand, Williams broke to open the second set and saved a pair of break points in a three-ace second game. But even when she's absorbing a thrashing, Petkovic keeps pushing. Fighting off a third straight break point with a kick serve wide to set up a down-the-line backhand winner, Petko bellowed "Come on!" to show she wasn't willing to concede, and Williams' applauded her opponent's shot and spirit. Then she answered back, cracking a backhand winner down the line and breaking for the second time in a row for a 3-0 advantage.
Still, it wasn't a flawless performance from Williams. She played a loose service game following a double fault by netting a forehand and squealing in frustration as she dropped serve for the first and only time. Petkovic pounced with a love hold for 2-3, but Williams answered, swooping in and bending low for a terrific angled forehand volley to hold at love for 4-2. She banged a service winner out wide to close the contest as ominous clouds were barging over a corner of the court.
A notoriously a tough self-grader, Williams won't be happy with her five double faults, her 44 percent of second-serve points won, or that sloppy service game she gave away. But given challenging conditions, a quality opponent who won the Charleston title on Har-Tru last month, and the fact her strained thigh passed the test, Serena should be satisfied.
The two-time Rome champion will play Varvara Lepchenko in an all-American third-round match. Lepchenko has permitted just five games in two tournament wins, including today's 6-2, 6-2 victory over 16th-seeded compatriot Sloane Stephens.