Williams sisters cruise at U.S. Open

Aug 28, 2007 - 4:05 AM FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- Following a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Althea Gibson's U.S. Open title - the first by an African-American - sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams took center stage Monday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Venus Williams, the No. 12 seed, took the court first and cruised to an easy 6-2, 6-1 victory over Hungarian Kira Nagy.

Serena had a tougher time before putting away Germany's Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 7-5.

The 27-year-old Venus Williams took the court after the ceremony, which was attended by New York City mayor Michael Blomberg and Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier 60 years ago with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The ceremony, which honored many other African-American pioneers, was capped by an appearance from singer Aretha Franklin, who sang her biggest hit song, "Respect" and finally the induction of Gibson into the US Open Court of Champions.

"Well it was definitely a tough act to follow," Venus Williams said. "Just watching the whole hour of entertainment, the whole story, I got to be part of the story, too. It was really moving."

"I think it's important to have nights like this so you can teach young people that don't know who they are," Serena Williams said of the ceremony.

Coming off a spectacular and surprising victory at Wimbledon, two-time U.S. Open champion Venus Williams continued to show little effects from her recent knee injury and a wrist injury that forced her to miss the first two months of the season and most of last year.

She began her ninth appearance at the Open by showing she meant business, needing just 51 minutes to advance.

"Definitely her ball was a little bit different," Williams said. "It did give me some challenges. I felt like I was so close to the ball. Maybe I was just running fast. But it was very exciting to obviously start with two service winners."

After breaking serve in the first game, Venus Williams' only obstacles were slipping on the grass and committing a double fault in the second game, but she overcame those and won 10 of the next 12 points before a lengthy fifth game, which reached deuce four times. After losing the first two points of the fifth, she won the game with a forehand winner.

The length of the game appeared to take a toll on Venus Williams and energize Nagy, who easily took the next two games, winning seven of the next eight points. Nagy also evened the final game of the set but Williams clinched it with a powerful ace down the middle and another hard serve that went unreturned.

Venus Williams opened the second set in similar fashion as the first but this time Nagy gained her confidence earlier and held serve on the third game. Williams recovered again and easily won the next four games and clinched her 49th U.S. Open match when Nagy committed a double fault.

Statisically it was an effective showing for Venus, who last year missed this event due to the same wrist injury she had earlier this year. She finished with five aces and countered 19 unforced errors with 24 winners, but the biggest highlight was a serve that reached 129 miles per hour, which surpassed her own record set at this year's French Open.

"I didn't realize it," Williams said. "I was so excited because I wasn't even trying. It just comes. Even when I'm trying to say, 'Ok, I'm going to hit a half pace with placement, it comes 120.' That's just how it comes.

"I'm not really trying (to hit it that fast). It's so exciting. I was very excited. I wasn't expecting to do that at all. I guess I got to try for one more, 130,".

Her next opponent will be Romania's Ioana Raluca Olaru.

The sisters are in the same portion of the Women's draw and could face each other in the semifinals, but first Serena Williams had to get past Kerber.

While her sister was in the middle of conducting her post-match press conference, the 25-year-old Serena split the first six games of the opening set before getting it going against the 19-year-old Kerber.

"If I'd have done things that I did in practice, it would have been a better match," Serena Williams said.

She won the final three games of the set and closed it out with a punishing ace. The second set was also an up-and-down one as Serena displayed her power game at times but also allowed Kerber to hang around.

Serena Williams took a 5-3 lead when she ended the eighth game with a dominanting overhand smash that went unreturned but could not break Kerber, who easily won the game. But serving for the match, Serena Williams could not hold off a determined effort by Kerber, whose game elevated.

Kerber continued to play well in the 11th game as she capped a lengthy rally with a nice drop shot. But Serena was determined to avoid a third set and, after fighting off a challenging foe, she finished the match with an overhand volley that put her on the brink of breaking Kerber, which happened when Kerber's drop shot was easily returned.

Serving for the match for the second time, Serena started it off with another overhand smash and moved to the brink of winning it with an ace. She finally finished the 77-minute match when Kerber could not return her forehand.

Serena has missed most the summer with a left thumb injury suffered during her dramatic run to the Wimbledon semifinals. She thought her thumb had recovered enough to allow her to participate in last week's Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, Connecticut but she had to pull out.

But Serena Williams believes her injury is behind her and is poised for lengthy run at her 10th Open, especially after a challenging conclusion to her first match and one that saw her counter 26 unforced errors with 38 winners.

"I didn't play well at all, at all," she said. "It was a crazy match out there."

Her next step in the open will be a second-round encounter with Italy's Maria Elena Camerin. Before the Williams sisters took the court, Justine Henin hardly broke a sweat on the tournament's first day.

The top-seeded Belgian needed just over an hour to rout German qualifier Julia Goerges, 6-0, 6-3.

Despite the scoreline, it was a far from fluent performance from the French Open champion who managed only 44 percent on her first serve and committed seven double faults. But when Henin did make her first serves, she was difficult to contain and Goerges folded with 32 unforced errors.

"I don't have a lot of things to say about that match because there wasn't a lot of rhythm," Henin said. "She was serving pretty hard, pretty good, but she did a lot of mistakes."

Henin has had an inflamed right shoulder which has restricted her to just one tournament start since Wimbledon. Worryingly for her rivals, the only one she played - in Toronto earlier this month - she won.

The problem is still a concern.

"I just did a good job." Henin said. "Generally, it's been positive, but I didn't serve that well. I was a bit concerned the last few days with my shoulder. It's getting better but still a little scary. But I'm glad to win. Nothing special today."

Preceding Henin on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court, third-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia was taken to a tiebreak in a 52-minute second set before overcoming Slovakia's Jamila Gajdosova, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2).

After her victory, the 2006 semifinalist admitted to first-day nerves but said she was glad to have been tested early in the tournament.

"Today I was really nervous, for some reason," Jankovic said. "First round of the tournament, it's always difficult, doesn't matter if it's a Grand Slam or just a regular tournament.

"I was just feeling a little bit not that comfortable. I wasn't playing well, was struggling out there. But, you know, it's always good to have some competition in the first rounds, to feel that, so you kind of wake up so you're ready for the next ones."

Fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic had little difficulties in a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Japan's Aiko Nakamura. The 19-year old native of Serbia, who was the runner-up at the French Open, next will face France's Aravane Rezai.

On the grandstand court, No. 10 Marion Bartoli of France cruised into the second round with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over American wild card Alexa Glatch.

Also through on the opening morning were 12th-seeded Russian Dinara Safina, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Colombian Catalina Castano, while another Russian, 27th seed Vera Zvonareva, survived a second-set wobble to defeat compatriot Alina Jidkova, 6-0, 6-7 (5-7), 6-0.

No. 28 Ai Sugiyama of Japan was another seed to ease into the second round, beating Slovenian qualifier Andreja Klepac, 6-3, 6-1.

There were two upsets with 25th seed Mara Santangelo of Italy going out to Russia's Vera Dushevina, 6-2, 6-4, and No. 29 Samantha Stosur of Australia, losing 6-3, 6-2 TO French qualifier Alize Cornet.

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