Serena Williams cruises in WTA Championships opener

ISTANBUL — Top-ranked Serena Williams breezed past Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1 to open her bid for a fourth ATP Championships title on Tuesday.

Williams, the defending champion, had no trouble against Kerber, who also lost to the American 6-4, 6-1 in the round-robin at this event last year. Kerber was the only player to beat Williams last year - in Cincinnati - after the American’s first-round ouster at the French Open.

“Today she was playing unbelievable, and I had actually no chance. I mean, she was serving great and also returning unbelievable,” Kerber said. “So I was just giving all I could, but yeah, it’s tough to play against Serena like this.”

Williams was particularly effective with her backhand return, the shot she also used on her first match point. Kerber, who had two straight double-faults to surrender the first game of the second set, produced another to give Williams three match points.

“Tonight was fine. Always good to get here early, not too early for me, but it’s good to get here and feel the conditions. Plus, I have played here before, so I think that helped, “Williams said.

Although she is 32, considered a ripe age in tennis, Williams is enjoying the finest season in her career, having already won 10 titles.

She added the French Open and U.S. Open titles to bring her Grand Slam record to 17 championships and is 74-4 for the year.

Earlier, second-ranked Victoria Azarenka overcame an erratic performance to beat an ailing Sara Errani 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the opening match of tournament.

“I was a little rusty at the beginning. I think it’s a little bit expected after a break, and playing right away against a top player always makes it a little bit difficult,” Azarenka said.

In the late match, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova, who had to withdraw during last year’s event because of injury, beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-4.

Kvitova, a former Wimbledon champion, struggled to close out the match. She had four break points and wasted two match points before winning on a challenge. Radwanska’s shot after a rally did not get a call but Kvitova asked for a review and the replay showed that the ball had gone long.

Williams, making her eighth appearance in the event, is looking to become the first player to successfully defend the title since Justine Henin in 2007.

Henin was also the last to win 10 titles in a season, in 2007.

Williams has wrapped up the year-end No. 1 ranking for the third time in her career after 2002 and 2009 and Kerber was impressed by William’s performance.

“I think I served very good, but she was returning unbelievable. Actually, she didn’t give me a small chance to breathe,” Kerber said.

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