C.Lum/Wire Images.com By Adrianna Outlaw
Serena Williams spaced out today. Playing her first match of the year on European red clay, the 2002 Roland Garros champion frequently found the space well beyond the baseline as the final destination for her shots, but cleaned up her game considerably in the final set to score a 7-5, 6-3 second-round victory over Maria Sanchez Lorenzo at the Telecom Italia Masters in Rome.
It was a streaky start for Williams, who dropped the first two games before reeling off five consecutive games to seize a seemingly commanding 5-2 lead. Sanchez Lorenzo responded by playing sound defensive tennis as Williams hit a series of errant shots to drop three straight games. The former No. 1 won two games to close out the set.
Still searching for sharpness in the second set, Williams again surrendered the opening two games, but won six of the final seven games to secure her spot in the third round.
"It was a struggle today, I hit a lot of fly balls," said Williams, who was making her first appearance since withdrawing from Charleston last month with knee soreness. "But as long as I won I'm really excited."
In her straight sets loss to Nadia Petrova at Amelia Island in April, Williams said she felt pain her knee, but did not think it was serious. In retrospect, she believes the transition from the hard courts of Key Biscayne to the clay courts of Amelia Island — as well as the strain of practicing on hard court in preparation for the Nasdaq-100 — created the soreness in her knee. Hard courts tend to require more abrupt stopping and starting, while the sliding and skidding on clay can tax different muscles.
"It really got sore kind of during the transition (from hard court to clay)," Williams said. "I was doing fine and it's kind of like I've been playing every day because in order to get prepared for Miami I was practicing weeks and weeks and weeks in advance. I've just been going non-stop."
In other Rome results, Croatia's Karolina Sprem, who fell to Venus Williams in three sets in Berlin on Saturday, routed Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-2.