Serena Williams opens clay season with a win in Rome


By Andrew Dampf

AP Sports Writer

ROME — Serena Williams got her clay-court season off to a strong start with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 51st-ranked Anna-Lena Friedsam in the second round of the Italian Open on Tuesday.

Having missed the Madrid Open last week due to a fever, top-ranked Williams showed no signs of illness, sending down crushing returns of serve for winners and dictating the long rallies.

“I love the clay and it just really felt good out there tonight,” Williams said. “I was really happy with my level. I think I was really consistent. … I was really concerned how it would be just running and moving and recovering. But it was fun.”

A 21-time Grand Slam winner, Williams hasn’t won a title since a hard-court event in Cincinnati last August.

Williams was beaten by Angelique Kerber in this year’s Australian Open final, and then fell to Victoria Azarenka in the title-match in Indian Wells, Calif. In her only other appearance this year, Williams lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round of the Miami Open.

A three-time Rome champion, Williams is warming up for the French Open, which starts in 12 days.

The 22-year-old Friedsam reached the fourth round of the Australian Open this year and showed off a strong first serve, hitting six aces — one less than Williams — but was otherwise overmatched.

“It wasn’t an easy match,” Williams said. “She’s an up-and-coming player and she plays well.”

In first-round action, Eugenie Bouchard beat Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in a matchup of former top-10 players and will next face Kerber.

Also, 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur rallied past American qualifier Alison Riske 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 and rising British player Johanna Konta defeated Swedish qualifier Johanna Larsson 6-1, 6-2.

In men’s second-round action, sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori beat Viktor Troicki 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 and eighth-seeded Tomas Berdych defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 6-4.

Nishikori surged ahead after Troicki got into a shouting match with the chair umpire at 1-1 in the second set.

In the first round, ninth-seeded David Ferrer came back from a set down to defeat Italian wild card entry Filippo Volandri 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Jankovic won this clay-court tournament in 2007 and 2008, but has gone three months without reaching a quarterfinal. Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up, slipped in the rankings last year but has rebounded with two finals this season.

“I knew it would be a tough battle,” Bouchard said. “I realized that she started controlling too many points, so in the third set I decided no matter what, even if I make a couple more mistakes, I need to step in and go for it. That made the difference.”

Also, U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta was honored with a tribute on the statue-lined Pietrangeli court. Pennetta retired at the end of last year.

By Andrew Dampf

AP Sports Writer

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