Serena casts aside Dulko, memories of last year's early exit
By Jeff Hartsell
The Post and Courier
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
They celebrated with fireworks Tuesday night on Daniel Island, and with good reason — tennis superstar Serena Williams' stay at the Family Circle Cup will be much longer than last year's 40 minutes.
Williams, seeded fifth at the Family Circle Cup and ranked ninth in the world, was pushed by 23-year-old Argentine Gisela Dulko, but chased down enough drop shots to prevail 6-3, 6-4 on a chilly night on Stadium Court.
Williams' victory put her into the third round, just one win away from a possible quarterfinal showdown with fourth-ranked Maria Sharapova.
"I just feel like it's good to win this match," Williams said after the noise from the postmatch fireworks died down. "I didn't play great on any level. I'm just glad it's over, to be honest, because I want to go to bed."
Last year at the Family Circle Cup, Williams was forced to retire with a leg injury just 40 minutes into her opening match. At 26, she holds eight Grand Slam titles, but still is seeking her first Family Circle Cup championship.
"I'm definitely glad that I stuck around longer this year than last year," she said. "I really want to be around a long time this year."
In the third round, Williams will face the winner of today's match between Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Katarina Srebotnik.
The 26-year-old Williams is coming off a dominating performance in winning her fifth Sony Ericsson title two weeks ago in Miami, looking as fit as she has in her career.
"I definitely feel that I'm in better shape, but for longevity instead of just a short time," she said. "I feel like every day I work to keep fit and to lengthen my career."
Her match with the 48th-ranked Dulko lasted a bit longer than Williams might have liked. In her first meeting with Serena, Dulko mixed up her shots effectively and made Williams run the court.
"She had a lot of variety," Williams said. "She would hit a winner and then she would hit really soft balls, and then she'd hit a drop shot and a slice."
Williams came out dressed for the weather, with black tights under a white skirt and a long-sleeve purple shirt. It took a while for her to warm up. She asked for quiet before serving to start the match, called for the chair umpire to check a mark on the second point (her appeal was denied) and netted two shots to lose her serve at love.
"I just got a slow start in general today," she said. "It was just — you know, it was cold and it was a late match. Those are just excuses I'm giving myself as to why I served bad."
Williams broke right back and then held for a 2-1 lead, but the two players traded breaks for the next five games, Williams taking a 5-3 lead. Serving for the set, she nailed a forehand and a service winner for 6-3.
The game of the match came with Dulko up, 1-0, in the second set. Williams had to fight off five break points, using the second of her five aces to hold off the final break point, and evened the set at 1-1.
Serena held serve from there, belting a 108 mph ace for two match points and clinching the match with a backhand to the corner.
"At least it wasn't windy," Williams said. "I think I'd rather play in the cold than in the wind, but I got really, really cold in the second set. Like, my body kind of froze, and I'm still in that frozen position right now."
Odds are, she'll warm up before that possible meeting with Sharapova. Williams has won four of her six meetings with Sharapova, including a 6-1, 6-1 trouncing in their last match, in Miami last year. One of Sharapova's two wins over Serena came in the 2004 Wimbledon finals.
If those two meet in the quarterfinals this week, that will be a match truly worth of fireworks.
"The grand finale!" Williams said as the fireworks sounded outside the press tent Tuesday night. "We should be watching this."