Wimbledon 2015: Serena Williams takes first step on road to Calendar Slam

Serena Williams breezes past debutant Margarita Gasparyan in straight sets to reach the second round of Wimbledon with ease

It was an unexpected admission at this stage in her remarkable career. Serena Williams revealed after winning the French Open that she was not a particular fan of grass—this from the woman who won her first Major before she turned 18 at the US Open, reached her 20th last month in Paris, and picked up five Wimbledon titles along the way.

Even she admitted that it was perhaps a surprising comment: “You know, oddly enough, it never has been my favourite surface, but I’ve always done really well here. I think my game is really suited for the grass. It’s never been someplace like, I love playing on the grass, which is just really weird, but, again, my game works for it, so…”

‘Works for it’ is, of course, an understatement: five titles from seven finals, 73 grass match-wins from 85 played, and Olympic gold on the same Wimbledon Centre Court in 2012. She is one of the finest servers in women’s tennis, possesses some of the most powerful groundstrokes, is smart as well as quick and flexible—a package that is designed for success on this surface.

Only one woman has played more often at Wimbledon—18 times—and been as successful. Now age 35, sister Venus is the oldest, still seeded at 16, in the women’s draw. The elder woman has won five titles from eight finals, by far her most successful surface and, as the luck of the draw would have it, they were scheduled to meet in the fourth round—though Serena said, with a smile, that she didn’t know that.

Perhaps her equivocal comments about the grass have been influenced by her fluctuating results in recent years. Three wins since 2009 have been punctuated by losses before the quarter-finals, including the last two years. But she saw that as inspiration.

“I think the fact that I lost so early the past couple years definitely makes me motivated. But I think that also gives me a little less pressure because I haven’t done well here in the past two years. It makes me feel like, Okay, I’ll be fine. I have nothing to lose here. I don’t have many points to defend here. So it’s just like trying to have fun.”

As world No1 for over two years, though, Williams has been in a rich vein of form that has won the last three Grand Slams and conceded only one match this year: She was due, and favourite to win, another title here, and that would ensure another very special achievement: a non-calendar Grand Slam, all four Majors at the same time. She had done it once before, in 2002, the last time any woman had won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back.

This time, she was also trying to keep alive another special target: the calendar Slam—something only ever done by three women. But she declined to let that distract her: “Personally, it doesn’t make it feel any different, which I think is a good thing ’cause I don’t feel any pressure to win all four. Maybe if I would happen to win here, then maybe I might start feeling it after that. Ultimately, I’m taking it one day at a time and I’m not thinking that far.”

That was a wise thing to do, though few expected that her first opponent, the 113-ranked qualifier Margarita Gasparyan, would cause too many problems. The 20-year-old was making her debut at Wimbledon—had not even played juniors here in previous years—and had played just one Grand Slam match, losing in the first round of Roland Garros last month. She had not even won a main tour WTA match before.

So when she broke Williams’ opening serve, it raised a few eyebrows. The world No1 managed to break back for 3-3 but not before Gasparyan passed up another chance to break. Williams was hitting more errors than winners as she remained under continuing pressure from the six feet tall, one-handed player with a serve almost as fast as her own—106mph—and even her second serve averaged 94mph against 99mph from the American.

Perhaps Williams’ slower start was down to her lack of grass match-play compared with the Russian’s three qualifying matches on the turf, but eventually the five-time champion began to find her range and rhythm. She broke again and took the set, 6-4, but with 14 errors to her name compared with eight winners.

That changed in the second set, as this time, Williams broke straight away to take a 2-0 lead, and her opponent would win only one more game in the match, as Williams raced to a 6-1 victory, though it had taken her a tough hour and 23 minutes.

Williams admitted: “I think she played really well. She also had a few matches under her belt, so she was really ready for the grass, and she got off to a really fast start. She was playing really well.”

Asked if she was grateful for a tough opening match, she smiled again: “I would be lying if I said I wanted a hard match. But I think it’s good for me. At the end of the day, I think it’s definitely good for me. But no-one really wants to be in any sort of difficult match.”

Her next test will be against Timea Babos, ranked 93, who put out Petra Cetkovska, 7-6, 6-3: It should be another straight-forward win, judging by the turnaround in her winner-to-error count in the second set today.

But things get tougher in this top-heavy section. Instead of Venus in the fourth round, she could meet No19 seed Sara Errani, a three-set winner over the only other woman older than Serena in the draw, Francesca Schiavone.

And looking further ahead to the quarters, one of her biggest rivals, No23 seed Victoria Azarenka, had an easy win over Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-1. And an alternative quarter-finalist made similar progress: No7 seed Ana Ivanovic beat Yi-Fan Xu, 6-1, 6-1.

In the other quarter of the top half, No4 seed Maria Sharapova beat British No126, Johanna Konta, who made a seed-beating run at Eastbourne last week, 6-2, 6-2, while No24 seed Flavia Pennetta was an early casualty.

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