Melbourne: Serena Williams cautiously walked onto the court, and tried to keep the points short to avoid irritating her injured right ankle as she advanced to the third round at the Australian Open. Apart from a swollen lip from hitting herself in the face with her racket in the sixth game, she emerged unscathed.
Summoning all her experience from 15 major titles, including the final two of the last season, Williams lifted her tempo on the biggest points - winning an 18-minute game to open the second set, finally cashing in on her fourth break chance. Nineteen minutes later, she finished off a 6-2, 6-0 win Thursday over No. 112-ranked Garbine Muguruza with an ace at 207 kph (128.7 mph) - the fastest she can remember serving.
"I'm on the up and up, I feel. It can only get better from here," she said, adding that she wasn't bothered by the ankle during the match. "Obviously when you go out to play you're heavy on adrenaline and you're really pumped up," she said. "Usually I feel injuries after the match but so far, so good. I felt pretty, much better than I ever dreamed of expecting to feel."
Williams said she was bleeding from the lip at one stage, "But it's OK. It's a war wound." I think it happens to everyone, but I have never busted it wide open like that," she said. "So, yeah, I was like, 'Oh, no. I can't have a tooth fall out.' That would be horrible."
Despite the injury concerns ever since needing medical timeout to treat her ankle during her first-round win on Tuesday, Williams planned to play doubles later with sister Venus, and will play her next singles match against Japan's Ayumi Morita on Saturday. Defending champion Victoria Azarenka practically danced into Rod Laver Arena for the match before Willliams' victory, and said she's starting to find some rhythm after beating Eleni Daniilidou 6-1, 6-0 in 55 minutes.
With temperatures later topping 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit), Azarenka didn't want to be out in the heat.
"I felt like I'm back into the competitive mode," she said. "I was really focused - that was for sure the best part of the game for me."
The No. 94-ranked Daniilidou only won 10 points in the first set and was shut out in the second despite having triple break point in the fourth game. Top-ranked Azarenka had her friend and musician RedFoo in the stands watching and signing autographs, and said she went onto the court listening to a "great mix of disco music and a little bit of new music. I really start to like it a lot - there's no words really."
The 23-year-old Belarusian won her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne last year, during a 26-match winning streak to start the season.
"It's pretty difficult to duplicate something like that," she said. "All I can do is try." She didn't win another major in 2012, dropping the U.S. Open final against Serena Williams, but held the No. 1 ranking for most of the season.
Also advancing were No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, who beat China's Peng Shuai 7-5, 6-2, No. 16 Roberta Vinci, and 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Shahar Peer. Elena Vesnina beat No. 21-seeded Varvara Lepchenko of the United States 6-4, 6-2. US Open champion Andy Murray had a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Joao Sousa of Portugal. Murray, who ended a 76-year drought by British men in Grand Slam tournaments with his win at Flushing Meadows last year, didn't allow Sousa a single break point chance in steamy conditions.
Standing in the way of a potential second Grand Slam title for Murray is a likely semifinal against No. 2 Roger Federer, who was playing his second-round match Thursday night. Others advancing include: 2008 Australian finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who pretended to do push-ups to disguise a fall during his 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3 win over Japan's Go Soeda; No. 17 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany , who beat Israeli qualifier Amir Weintraub 6-2, 7-6 (4,) 6-4; and Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis defeated No. 25 Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.
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