Sudden falls struck Serena Williams in early Grand Slam exits this season. So stress spiked when the top seed faced four break points in the opening game, then tumbled to the court chasing a running forehand in her Wimbledon return.
A jarring start sparked an imposing closing. Scraping herself off the court, Williams drilled 16 aces and did not drop serve in blasting past Anna Tatishvili, 6-1, 6-2.
The top seed was recently named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential people, but it was the 113th-ranked Tatishvili who came out throwing her weight around. The Boca Raton-based Tatishvili crowded the baseline and took her cracks earning four break points in the 10-minute opener. Williams answered with a cross-court forehand winner and firm "Come on!", bolting a serve winner down the middle to end a demanding game.
Seeing Williams slip on the slick grass and crash to the court was scary. Seeing what happened when she got up was even more disturbing for Tatishvili. It was as if the fall knocked the nerves out of Williams, who broke with a cross-court forehand, then began moving with more urgency in winning five of the next six games.
Williams whipped three aces, zapping a slice down the T, to close the 31-minute first set. The pace of Williams' massive serve commands attention—Serena herself often glances into the corner to sneak a peek at the speed—but it was her skill in dotting the corners of the box with varied spins and speeds that really troubled Tatishvili. Williams did not hit a serve faster than 117 M.P.H., but twisted some 94 M.P.H. sharp-angled benders into the corner, banged some second serves into the body, and sometimes finished games with that slashing slice that darts away from the opponent.
When her serve is clicking, shots seem to flow more smoothly for the five-time champion. Curling a forehand cross-court, Williams broke for 3-2, then she unloaded. Slamming three straight aces down the middle, Williams snapped off a slice wide in an impressive four-ace declaration for 4-2. Already beat up by the nine-match losing streak she carried onto court, Tatishvilli looked a bit tormented by then.
In her Australian Open fourth-round loss to Ana Ivanovic and Roland Garros second-round defeat to Garbine Muguruza, Williams was denied access to angles and jammed up by the deep ball down the middle. She was more proactive with her footwork as this match progressed, but Williams' initial strikes off the serve and return were often so damaging, Tatishvili had limited time to try and tie her up.
On a day in which one young American—Madison Keys—extended her grass-court run, while another—Taylor Townsend—failed to survive the first hurdle, Williams took a couple of games to find her balance then wasted no time asserting her explosiveness.
"I fell so many times; it was weird," Williams said afterward. "It was probably just getting my bearings. I didn't play much grass last year. So I think I'll be okay."