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U.S. Open: Serena Williams powerful in first-round victory

Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

If Serena Williams’ right shoulder was bothering her Tuesday night, you couldn’t tell by the way she handled Ekaterina Makarova in her opening match of the U.S. Open.

Williams seemed as powerful and dominating as usual, dispatching Makarova, 6-3, 6-3, in a little more than an hour at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

After her Wimbledon victory in July that tied her with Steffi Graf with 22 Grand Slam titles, Williams had a largely inactive and unsuccessful summer with shoulder woes she had been dealing with for a while finally having significant impact. She lost in the third round of the Olympics and pulled out of the Cincinnati tuneup event.

But there she was hammering away at Makarova Tuesday night. She served 12 aces and four service winners. Only 25 of her 45 serves were returned in play. Combine that with 27 winners, that’s the Serena way. Except she said it wasn’t quite the full-bore Serena serve.

“I didn’t make too many adjustments, I just didn’t hit them as hard as I usually do,” Williams said. “I just went for placement.”

She wasn’t entirely confident coming in that the serve was going to be working. By the end of the night, it was working well enough.

“I was pleased with my serve because I haven’t been hitting a lot of serves at all,” she said. “In practice, none of them were going in, so I was definitely excited about that.”

While Williams held a 4-1 record against Makarova heading into the match, that one loss was on the big stage at the 2012 Australian Open in the fourth round. She also encountered Makarova twice at the U.S. Open, beating her in the semifinals in 2014 and the third round in 2012.

“I needed to be focused because I’ve played her. She’s gotten to the semifinals. She goes deep in majors,” Williams said. “She knows how to play big matches on big courts. She’s not intimidated. I knew I had to really come out today.”

When the Open ends on Sept. 11, Williams will be ranked No. 1 for 186 consecutive weeks, tying her with Graf for the longest such streak of all-time. But when the revised rankings come out that following Monday, she will need a good performance in the Open to assure she stays atop the heap and breaks the tie with Graf.

If Williams wins a record seventh Open title, breaking a tie with Chris Evert in the Open Era, she’s No. 1 no matter what and will have been since Feb. 18, 2013.

But the rankings math could get a little dicey if she doesn’t win, depending on what Angelique Kerber, currently No. 2, does here. If she makes the quarterfinals, Williams needs to reach the final to stay No. 1. And if Williams should lose early, Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska would also have a shot at No. 1 if they reach the final or win it.

New York Sports