MELBOURNE—Call it a public, compensated practice session. This was Serena Williams’ 6-0, 6-2 opening-round win over 74th-ranked Tatjana Maria. A tidbit of note is that the two are neighbors in Florida. Their daughters, Serena’s 14-month Alexis Olympia, and Maria’s five-year-old, Charlotte, play together. We assume the young girls do so in a cooperative manner, eschewing the combative qualities that flavor each mother’s vocational path and kept today’s play date—the first meeting between these two friends—to a brisk 49 minutes.
Mutual motherhood tales could wait. Instead, Serena applied the Australian principle of competition to her pal Tatjana: I respect you so highly that I will thoroughly kick your butt to the curb. I will not patronize, nor underestimate.
“She's a tricky player,” Williams said afterwards. “Could have been easily a 6-3, 6-4 match or three-set match. She's been able to beat top players, No. 1 and No. 2, so she knows how to play. I think always when I have a tougher round or I know someone that's really good, I really want to be focused, and then that was really helpful for me today.”
The first set went by in 18 minutes, Maria winning but five points. Yesterday on this court, Maria Sharapova had hurled a double-bagel, the kind of score so harsh that even Hall of Famers have admitted they feel ambivalent about winning by that score. Finally, at 0-3 in the second set, Maria held serve. Naturally, the crowd burst into cheers. Soon enough, the slaughter was over, Maria having been thoroughly overmatched.
But of course this was a match where, barring the extraordinary, the on-court tale would pose far less intrigue than the post-match press conference. The last time Serena had addressed the press at an official tournament had been after last year’s US Open final. And it would also be her first in Melbourne since her title run here two years ago. Disaster and triumph, not exactly two imposters, at least in those instances.
Yet while those two prior occasions were marked by excessive emotion, Serena’s manner today was rather subdued, as she addressed everything from the match to career management to her second-round opponent and topic number one, motherhood.
Asked to explain her scheduling philosophy, Williams said, “I just literally couldn't try to do all the traveling. I was always doing something. I was either in school or working on some company. It was always something I was doing, so it didn't actually allow me to travel as much. I always feel when I play tournaments, I just try to do the best I can in them, and then maybe I wouldn't have to play as many.”
Williams next plays Eugenie Bouchard. The two have played twice, Williams winning each time.
Said Williams, “She does everything well, and I really like that she doesn't quit. You know, people write her off, and she doesn't let that bother her. She continues to fight and do what she needs to do.”
Said Serena, “It's definitely different to travel with a toddler as opposed to a baby, an infant. Infants I think are easier, and everyone said it's easier. I didn't quite understand. Olympia takes a lot more attention now…It’s kind of what I do in Florida. I train and I go right home and I spend the rest of the day with my daughter.”
How fitting that the press conference ended at approximately 3:00 p.m. School was out. It was now play time.
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