A pain-free Serena Williams sent an ominous warning to her rivals as she crushed fellow American Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 6-1 in the first round of the Brisbane International yesterday.
Third seed Williams, 31, pulled out of an exhibition tournament in Thailand last week amid concerns that she had not fully recovered from a recent foot surgery.
However, she looked in great touch against Lepchenko, who was never able to trouble Williams after squandering five break points in the opening game.
The 15-time Grand Slam winner quickly found her groove as she romped away to win in 59 minutes.
“My foot didn’t hurt today,” a relieved Williams said. “I was a little nervous, but I was completely fine.”
Williams entered the tournament as firm favorite after a stellar second half of the year, during which she won seven titles, including Wimbledon, the US Open, the WTA Championship and the Olympics.
“I love winning, and I feel like as long as I’m able to win some matches and do well, I’m really motivated to keep going,” she said.
Former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova got her campaign off to an impressive start when she downed Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets.
Kvitova, the sixth seed, cruised through the first set and opened a 5-3 lead in the second, but was forced to hold off a Suarez Navarro fightback to win 6-3, 6-4 in 90 minutes.
The tall left-hander had a stellar year last year when she broke through to win Wimbledon, along with five other WTA titles, on her way to a career-high ranking of No. 2, having started the year at 34.
She lost some ground this year, slipping back to No. 8 in the world.
She now plays Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who downed Czech Lucie Hradecka 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Poland’s Urszula Radwanska defeated Tamira Paszek of Austria 2-6, 6-0, 6-2, while Australian wildcard entry Jarmila Gajdosova upset Italy’s world No. 16 Roberta Vinci 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 to set up a clash with second seed Maria Sharapova.
Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova progressed after seeing off Lourdes Dominguez Lino 7-5, 6-2.
Hometown favorite Samantha Stosur plays her first match tonight against Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson, with the top two seeds Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova not playing until tomorrow.
AP, PERTH, Australia
The US claimed a 2-1 victory over South Africa at the Hopman Cup mixed team competition yesterday.
Venus Williams rallied to defeat Chanelle Scheepers 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, before Kevin Anderson leveled for South Africa with a 7-6, 7-6 win over John Isner.
The US clinched the match with a 6-3, 6-2 win in mixed doubles.
Williams took time to settle against an opponent who rallied well and hit the ball deep. However, after conceding her serve at love to leave Scheepers serving for the first set, the American looked increasingly comfortable and aggressive.
After taking the second set when her opponent double-faulted, she then swept to a 4-0 lead in the third on her way to closing out the match.
Isner held the only break point of the first set for a 4-2 lead, but missed his return. In the second set, Isner fought off three break points at 3-2 and another at 4-3, but again fell short in the tiebreaker.
Williams was playing for the first time since winning the Luxembourg event in mid-October.
Later yesterday, the French combination of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mathilde Johansson were to face Spain’s Fernando Verdasco and Anabel Medina Garrigues.
At the Shenzhen Open in Shenzhen, China, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei beat Melinda Czink of Hungary 6-3, 6-2 in the first round yesterday.
Laura Robson (Britain) beat Edina Gallovits-Hall (Romania) 6-2, 6-1, while Monica Niculescu (Romania) beat Zheng Saisai (China) 6-4, 7-5.
Annika Beck (Germany) beat Garbine Muguruza Blanco (Spain) 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6.
Additional reporting by Staff writer