Serena Williams crushed one of the few women to have beaten her in the last 15 months as she began her defence of the WTA Championships in Istanbul with a speedily impressive win on Tuesday.
The world number one from the United States took little more than an hour and allowed only four games to Angelique Kerber, who beat her in Cincinnati last year but who was now outplayed almost from the moment she dropped serve in her opening service game.
As usual it was Williams’ superbly produced serve and withering power off the ground which overwhelmed her opponent, and the 6-3, 6-1 success suggested she is as far ahead of the field as she has ever been.
Only briefly, when Kerber earned a break back point in the third game, did the German have a glimpse of getting back into it, and Williams soon denied her that with fierce straight drives on the backhand and the forehand.
Williams’ composure was oceanic, and possibly disconcerting. “Tennis is tranquil for me to get out there,” she said before the match. “It helps me relax and it makes me calm because I don’t have to worry about all the other stuff going on.” That apparently referred to business affairs which will presumably take a back seat while she chases the record of Grand Slam titles during 2014.
Her main rival, Victoria Azarenka, looked care-worn and uncertain by comparison. She was far from consistent and might easily have lost the first set in a 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 survival against Sara Errani, the sixth seeded Italian.
The world number two from Belarussia found it hard to force the pace on the slowish surface, lost three of her first four service games, and trailed 2-5.
It confirmed the impression given by her disappointing performances in Beijing and Tokyo that she has not been in the best of health, but she improved after squeezing through the first set tie-break.
“I was a little rusty at the beginning. I think it’s a little bit expected after a break, and, you know, playing right away against a top player always makes it a little bit difficult because you don’t have that room, adaptation. So I had to make that adaptation kind of during the match.
“But I think, you know, overall was important to take that first set. It was a big turnaround point and to stay in the moment, to really just try to find a way how to, you know, how to win points, how to win games,” she said.
She was helped by Errani, whose ground strokes had been well-controlled and disguised for the first half of the match, beginning to lose some rhythm and confidence.
That was partly due to Azarenka improving her length whilst retaining her weight of shot, and from the third game onwards in the second set she at last got on top.
However she may need to improve if she is to win a group which includes Li Na, the Chinese player whom she only narrowly beat in the final of the Australian Open at the start of the year.