LONDON — After a week filled by a headline-grabbing, off-court tiff with Maria Sharapova and a series of apologies stemming from a magazine profile, Serena Williams got back to doing what she does best.
Better than anyone in the world right now, really.
Extending her winning streak to 32 matches, the longest single-season run on the women’s tour since 2000, Williams began her bid for a sixth Wimbledon championship and 17th Grand Slam title overall with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over 92nd-ranked Mandy Minella on Tuesday.
“You can call her pretty much unbeatable,” Minella said. “She’s playing better than ever. … Every time she steps on court, you can see why.”
And yet Williams, the defending champion at the All England Club, and Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who’s been helping her during the current 75-3 stretch that dates to the start of Wimbledon last year, both gave this assessment: There are areas of her game that could use some fine-tuning.
“After today, there’s so many ways that I can improve,” Williams said, “and that I’m going to need to improve if I want to be in the second week of this tournament.”
The highest-seeded player to depart Tuesday was No. 10 Maria Kirilenko, beaten 6-3, 6-4 by teenager Laura Robson, the first British woman to beat a top-10 player at Wimbledon in 15 years.
Other women winning easily included No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 runner-up to Williams; 2011 French Open champion Li Na; and No. 7 Angelique Kerber.
Novak Djokovic dispatched 34th-ranked Florian Mayer 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, and the only real hitch was when he slipped to the Centre Court grass. No. 4 David Ferrer took two falls during a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over 101st-ranked Martin Alund.
American Sam Querrey lost 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 to 59th-ranked Bernard Tomic.
Tomic ripped the ATP for barring his father, who is also his coach, from attending tournaments for 12 months because of pending assault charges and said he’ll ask Wimbledon to let Dad attend his next match. Querrey, meanwhile, was miffed that Tomic got a chance to collect himself while being checked by trainers after saying he felt lightheaded in the fourth set.
“I knew he was kind of dizzy, but let’s go; it’s a physical game,” Querrey said. “That’s part of it. If you’re dizzy or hurt, you’ve got to play through it. You can’t just take breaks. That’s not why I lost. But I felt I had some momentum there and that leveled the playing field for the fifth set.”
It’s been difficult for any opponent to things close against Williams lately, even if she claimed Tuesday, “I never feel invincible.”
Her practice-makes-perfect pledge might give future opponents pause, starting with Caroline Garcia, who will face Williams in the second round for the second Grand Slam tournament in a row. After losing to Williams 6-1, 6-2 at the French Open last month, Garcia made these observations: “I need to work on my game to pose more problems for her next time” and “She hits hard.”
You don’t say.
Dealing with serves that came in at up to 121 mph (195 kph) — that readout on the speed clock prompted murmuring among impressed spectators — Minella managed to put only half of her returns in play.
“When I stood right in front of her, I looked at her and not at the ball at the beginning. Because it’s just unreal; because I’ve never played against this type of player. It’s a lot of stuff you have to deal with,” Minella said.
“The strength and the heavy spin of her serve is definitely better than anyone else, I would say,” Minella added. “It is different from what I’ve seen. But it’s also because it’s too good. ... Many other players wouldn’t reach the ball today.”
Still, for a brief moment, Minella appeared to be getting into the match. A double-fault by Williams handed over a break that gave Minella a 2-0 lead in the second set. Serving at 40-30 in the next game, Minella was a point from a 3-0 edge.
That’s when Williams got her act together, producing a cross-court backhand winner to get to deuce while taking 15 of 18 points to go ahead 4-2.
“In these moments,” Minella observed, “she can raise her level.”