Serena fine with 'different and bizarre' opening US Open match
NEW YORK -- Virtually anything following Josh Grobin singing is bound to be a little anti-climactic. But with the completion of Serena Williams' Grand Slam pursuit at stake, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium had to be hoping for her first-round match to at least last longer than Monday's opening-night ceremony.
Instead, they got a 6-0, 2-0 (ret) win by Williams in an abbreviated effort by 86th-ranked Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, whom actor Alec Baldwin likened to "a crunchy hors d'oeuvre Serena is chewing on" in a courtside interview with ESPN's Pam Shriver following the first set.
Diatchenko, who had Achilles surgery earlier this year and will receive the standard $39,500 for taking the Grand Slam court, managed just five points in the first six games, barely moving well enough to get out of the way of Williams' serves, which only once traveled faster than 111 mph.
The temptation would be to say Williams would have been better off with an hour against hitting partner Robbye Poole than the 27 minutes of nothing that passed as a match Monday.
But on a steamy night in which Williams admitted to feeling nerves before the match, the six-time US Open champion going for her fourth straight here and 22nd career Grand Slam title, was not complaining.
Despite calling it "different and bizarre," Williams, who has played 17 three-set matches in a year in which she lost only two total, said she didn't need a first-round test.
"I don't think that's a worry, because my practices are really intense and I really fight really hard in my practices," she said on a day in which six seeded players lost. "I know that every match is a challenge. I have to be ready for everything."
The soon-to-be 34-year-old was itching to get started in New York, the site of her first career Grand Slam title in 1999.
"It was a really good feeling going out there," she said. "You know, just taking it all in, having those nerves, but at the same time just being ready for whatever happens."
A glide to her fifth straight major title is certainly not guaranteed with possible upcoming matchups against hungry young Americans Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys, possibly a quarterfinal collision with sister Venus, who always tests her emotionally and physically.
But after Monday's blip, Williams seemed anxious to see how it unfolds.
As great as their careers were, neither Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Monica Seles, Helen Wills Moody nor Suzanne Lenglen have done what Williams is trying to accomplish. Only Steffi Graf, the last to accomplish the feat (in 1988), Margaret Court ('70) and Maureen Connolly have ('53) have completed a Grand Slam in women's tennis. In the men's game, only Rod Laver (in '62 and '69), and Don Budge ('38) have won the Grand Slam.
"Honestly, if can just stay relaxed, stay in points and stay calm, that's all I have to do," Williams told Mary Joe Fernandez. "I have to just stay happy out here."
Saying she will likely keep to her usual Grand Slam routine of staying in her room and watching Netflix and a download on Investigation Discovery, her first-round match seemed to match that vibe.
As she cautioned, even on a night when your match is shorter than the national anthem, "You never know what can happen."