Aussie Open: Serena Makes Statement With Superb Win, Zverev Through

Jan 15 - by AFP for SportPesa News

In an ominous warning to her rivals at Melbourne Park, the American dismantled Maria 6-0, 6-2 in only 49 minutes, justifying her status as bookies' favourite to claim an eighth Australian title

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Germany's Tatjana Maria during their women's singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 15, 2019. PHOTO/AFP

  • Serena Williams denied Tuesday her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title was a distraction as her Australian Open campaign launched with a straight sets mauling of Germany's Tatjana Maria
  • The 37-year-old won her 23rd major Down Under two years ago while eight weeks pregnant and is now attempting to match Margaret Court's mark of 24 singles Slams on the Australian's home soil
  • Alexander Zverev has been tipped as a potential Grand Slam winner and lived up to his billing Tuesday by sweeping into the second round of the Australian Open in straight sets
  • The 21-year-old world number four cruised past Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in 1hr 55min on Rod Laver Arena after coolly overcoming a minor first set blip when he lost his serve to the Slovenian world number 67

MELBOURNE, Australia- Serena Williams denied Tuesday her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title was a distraction as her Australian Open campaign launched with a straight sets mauling of Germany's Tatjana Maria.

In an ominous warning to her rivals at Melbourne Park, the American dismantled Maria 6-0, 6-2 in only 49 minutes, justifying her status as bookies' favourite to claim an eighth Australian title.

The 37-year-old won her 23rd major Down Under two years ago while eight weeks pregnant and is now attempting to match Margaret Court's mark of 24 singles Slams on the Australian's home soil.

Williams said she was not dwelling on the bid for history, which would confirm her status as the greatest player of all time.

"I have been going for the record what seems like forever now, so it doesn't feel any different," she said.

Her 2017 triumph in Melbourne gave her the outright Open-era record for singles majors ahead of Steffi Graf's 22, leaving only Court's tally of 24 titles -- 13 of which were earned in the amateur era before 1968 -- for her to chase.

It was Williams' first outing on tour since her infamous meltdown at the umpire while losing the US Open final to Naomi Osaka in September.

"I, like, literally have no comment," she responded when asked about the controversy, which split opinion in the tennis world.

She was unfailingly polite to the chair umpire at Melbourne Park and the centre court crowd greeted her warmly, cheering as she walked out.

There was further applause when she removed her black warm-up jacket to reveal her outfit for the tournament -- a jade-green jumpsuit matched with fishnet stockings.

"It's a Serena-tard," she said when asked to describe the garment.

Her demeanour was steely but calm once play began and the American swatted aside her opponent with ease, making a mockery of her 16th seeding at this year's tournament.

She won her first service game to love then effortlessly broke Maria's serve, blasting winners seemingly as will as she claimed the first set 6-0 in just 18 minutes.

Inevitable defeat

She eased up slightly in the second set against someone she described as "incredibly tricky", with Maria snatching two games before succumbing to inevitable defeat.

It was small consolation for the German, a neighbour of Williams at Palm Beach, Florida, who left the court in tears after the drubbing.

"I'm glad that I was able to come out and do what I needed to do...  I feel like I'm in the right direction. We'll see," she said.

The win sets up an enticing second-round clash with Canada's Eugenie Bouchard.

The former Wimbledon finalist is on the comeback trail after sliding down the rankings and posted a comprehensive 6-2, 6-1 win over China's Peng Shuai in the opening round.

Williams has won her two previous meetings with Bouchard but was wary of the 24-year-old's fighting qualities.

"She does everything well, and I really like that she doesn't quit," she said. 

"People write her off and she doesn't let that bother her. She continues to fight and do what she needs to do. I think that's really good."

Alexander Zverev has been tipped as a potential Grand Slam winner and lived up to his billing Tuesday by sweeping into the second round of the Australian Open in straight sets.

The 21-year-old world number four cruised past Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in 1hr 55min on Rod Laver Arena after coolly overcoming a minor first set blip when he lost his serve to the Slovenian world number 67.

Zverev dropped serve to trail 4-3 in the first set but broke straight back and from that point was never behind again in a dominant display.

"I was a little bit sloppy so it was a wake-up call to play better," said the German fourth seed who came into Melbourne brimming with confidence after an impressive warm-up in Perth's mixed teams Hopman Cup, but also carrying some niggling injuries. 

"My body is close to perfection," he proclaimed after the match, bringing howls of laughter from the crowd when questioned about his fitness after the match by on-court interviewer Jim Courier.

Biggest stage

"It looks great, because I'm standing next to you," he quipped to the American who won the Australian Open in 1992 and 1993.

Then more seriously he added: "I've had about 86 injuries and the ankle is still a bit swollen. But I've done everything right in my preparation. Now I either play well or I don't."

He ended 2018 by winning the biggest crown of his career when he overpowered Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals.

"Surely it was a great moment and really helped," Zverev told reporters, "because it's one of the biggest tournaments that we have in the world. 

"To win it gives you a lot of great confidence to beat those players, because they have a lot of great confidence, as well."

But questions remain over whether this new kid on the block can dismantle the dominance of the old guard of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

To do that he must end his abject record in Grand Slams -- a lone quarter-final at the French Open is all he has to show for 14 prior appearances on the biggest stage -- and to that end has recruited eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl to his coaching team.

"It's been good. I mean, obviously Ivan is giving a lot of good advice," said the German who has never got beyond the third round in Melbourne. 

"It's not only this Grand Slam but we worked a lot last year as well after the US Open. Things don't just come together after you start working with someone one week or two weeks. It really takes time. 

"I hope now it's going to be the period where it really starts showing."

Last year, seeded four, he crashed out in the last 32 to South Korea's Chung Hyeon.

He next faces Jeremy Chardy or Ugo Humbert who were facing off later Tuesday in an all-French clash.