LONDON — After a week filled by a headline-grabbing, off-court tiff with Maria Sharapova and a series of apologies stemming from a magazine profile, Serena Williams got back to doing what she does best.
Better than anyone in the world right now, really.
Extending her winning streak to 32 matches, the longest single-season run on the women’s tour since 2000, Williams began her bid for a sixth Wimbledon championship and 17th Grand Slam title overall with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over 92nd-ranked Mandy Minella of Luxembourg on Tuesday.
“You can call her pretty much unbeatable,” Minella said. “She’s playing better than ever. … Every time she steps on court, you can see why.”
And yet Williams, the defending champion at the All England Club, and Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who’s been helping her during the current 75-3 stretch that dates to the start of Wimbledon last year, both gave this assessment: There are areas of her game that could use some fine-tuning.
“After today, there’s so many ways that I can improve,” the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams said, “and that I’m going to need to improve if I want to be in the second week of this tournament.”
Really? How about some examples?
“Come on,” Williams replied, tilting her head and smiling.
Here was Mouratoglou’s take after watching Williams win her first 17 service points and compile a 25-5 edge in total winners on Centre Court: “I mean, of course, not everything is perfect yet. It’s interesting to see what we need to work on for the (coming) days.”
They also agreed that she did not have too hard a time setting aside the events of the previous seven days, which included a lot of saying “I’m sorry” — face-to-face with Sharapova, at a news conference, in two separate statements posted on the web — over things Williams was quoted as saying in a Rolling Stone story. Williams made a negative reference in a phone conversation to a top-five player’s love life (the piece’s author surmised that was about Sharapova) and an off-the-cuff remark about a widely publicized rape case in the U.S. that was perceived by some as criticizing the victim.
“It hasn’t been a distraction,” Williams insisted. “I’m just here to focus on the tennis.”
All in all, by easily winning her first match since winning the French Open on June 8, she helped restore order at Wimbledon 24 hours after a chaotic Day 1 that included the only first-round Grand Slam loss of 12-time major champion Rafael Nadal’s career and a scary-looking, knee-twisting tumble by two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka during her win.
The highest-seeded player to depart Tuesday was No. 10 Maria Kirilenko, beaten 6-3, 6-4 by teenager Laura Robson, the first British woman to beat a top-10 player at Wimbledon in 15 years. Of the 10 local players who entered the tournament, Robson and reigning U.S. Open champion Andy Murray, last year’s runner-up at the All England Club, are the only two left.
“It’s hard for all the British players to come in here and, you know, lose first round,” said Robson, who beat Kim Clijsters at the 2012 U.S. Open in the last match of the four-time major champion’s career, “because you just feel extra disappointed.”