MASON — Serena Williams pumped her fist after each important point and screamed as she smacked another emphatic shot. The defending Cincinnati champion wasn’t going to ease into the tournament.
Williams put a lot of emotion into her opening match at the Western & Southern Open on Wednesday, a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova that made her the first of the top seeds to advance.
Novak Djokovic won his rain-delayed opening match, beating Benoit Paire 7-5, 6-2 in 1 hour, 39 minutes.
Williams won the Cincinnati tournament for the first time last year, getting one of the few titles that had eluded her. This year, she’s using it as a final tuneup for the U.S. Open, where she’ll be the focus as she tries to complete a rare Grand Slam sweep.
For her, this week is about getting her game ready to take a swing at history.
“I think it could be a lot better,” she said. “It’s not where I would want it ideally, but, you know, I’m going to have to fix that more mentally than anything. I think once I lock in there I will be OK.”
She’s already starting to get locked in on New York by limiting her responsibilities away from the court.
“I’m really trying to stay away from stress and stay away from press,” Williams said. “But, you know, that’s a little difficult.
“I don’t necessarily want to hear about, ‘Oh, this history and that history,’ because I just want to be able to do the best that I can. I want to be able to win and I don’t want any distractions. That’s how I’m going to handle it.”
The top-ranked Williams was coming off a loss to Belinda Bencic on Saturday night in Toronto in the Rogers Cup semifinals.
The start of the day’s matches was delayed 35 minutes because of rain, which fell again shortly after Williams completed her win.
Her sister, Venus, dropped out of the tournament Tuesday night with an illness. Maria Sharapova also dropped out with a lingering injury to her right leg.
On the men’s side, Djokovic waited out a long rain delay before his match started, and then wasted chances to close it out quickly. He converted only 5 of 15 break points during the match. The first set lasted 64 minutes.
Djokovic has never won in Cincinnati, losing the finals to Andy Murray in 2008 and 2011, and to Roger Federer in 2009 and 2012. A title this week would make him the first player to win all nine ATP Masters events.
Fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka rallied for a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over Borna Coric. The French Open champion didn’t take control until he broke Coric’s serve in the sixth game of the third set and then held for a 5-2 lead. He will meet Ivo Karlovic in the third round.
Twelfth-seeded Richard Gasquet survived a first-set tiebreaker and advanced with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis. Gasquet will face seventh-seeded Marin Cilic in the third round.
Tommy Robredo beat Sam Querrey 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 after the third set was delayed by rain.
AP freelance writer Mark Schmetzer contributed to this report.