Serena Williams follows sister's lead, wins
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Venus and Serena Williams are as close as sisters can be. They live together, play the same sport and share the same passions for fashion and design.
So it makes perfect sense that they'd make their comebacks to tennis together, after months-long layoffs due injury and illness, on consecutive days at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Serena, who hurt her left ankle in early January, has been off the tour recovering since she lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open. She looked businesslike in dispatching Shuai Zheng 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday. She will play Roberta Vinci, ranked No. 20, next.
Venus won her first round match in straight sets over Kimiko Date-Krumm on Wednesday, marking her first singles match in more than six months after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren's Syndrome. She will face No. 3 ranked Petra Kvitova in the next round.
Serena said her sister's performance moved her emotionally.
"[It was] amazing," Serena said. "I am so happy for her. She's been through so much, and I think to go through that, and continue to play, and she never gave up. She gave me hope and inspiration." She's inspired me, not just in tennis, but in life."
Serena, who is ranked 11th, admitted to some nerves playing for the first time since Melbourne, and she looked a little passive, even detached, in the first set. She wore heavy, white-taped athletic strapping over the majority of her right thigh, something she termed "precautionary" for her hamstring.
She's a five-time champion of the Sony Ericsson Open, but has missed the tournament the past two years due to injuries. This year, there were questions about Serena's ankle and fitness.
She said she wasn't forced to run too much by Zheng and that her ankle felt fine. Williams did little more than was necessary to win points. She dialed down her serve a bit, hitting around 110 mph on her first serve and the upper-70s on her second.
Zheng was trying to paint the lines, knowing she couldn't win by getting into long, hard-hitting rallies with Williams. Zheng, a nimble player, was frequently scrambling as Serena tried to yo-yo her from side to side in their rallies.
The action, and Williams' emotional engagement, picked up in the second set, as Zheng's groundstrokes became more effective. Zheng turned the tables, moving Williams around a bit more, especially through her serve. Williams became noticeably upset, screaming in frustration, at 2-2 in the second, after missing another forehand return into the net.
Getting angry proved to be a good thing for Williams, as the pace of her groundstrokes and serves picked up. She started yelling, "C'mon," and pumping her fist after winners. Zheng couldn't keep up with Williams' elevated play, and couldn't chase down the tough angles.
Williams punctuated the win with a 122-mph ace, her fastest of the match, untouched by Zheng down the middle.
"I got frustrated, but not too much. I think it was like motivation frustration," Williams said. "I wasn't wondering if I could just go and play well. The last time I played, I played horrible and hit a ball into the stands. I told my friend, if I don't hit a ball into the stands, then I am good. That didn't happen today."