Little by little. That’s Serena Williams’s approach to Australian Open 2013. Little by little, her ankle is improving. And little by little, she’s making her way through the draw, the first three rounds under her belt, and a fourth round on Monday to look forward to.
Almost taking umpire Fergus Murphy’s head off during the coin toss process with her habitual racket-swinging routine before jogging to the baseline, Serena was, on the face of it, not quite at her best in this third round hit-up against Ayumi Morita.
Her first serve percentage was at the 67 mark, although she did win 88 per cent of those 67 per cent that went in. Her unforced errors were up at 25 for the match – 11 in the first set, 10 in the second, and three double faults. But her winners made up for it, 29 to Morita’s seven.
But, the statistics aside, and a very brief wobble to hand over her first break of the tournament, Serena revealed the challenge was a positive one.
“I feel good. I feel today was actually a really good match for me,” Serena said. “I was involved in a lot of longer points, something I definitely wanted. I hope I can keep this level up and go higher.”
Roaring through the first set 6-1, and then producing a virtual bagel to recover from a 0-3 deficit in the second, she ambled through, ankle and all, 6-1 6-3 in an hour and six minutes.
The hour and six minute match also featured a second 207km/h serve from Williams, two days after breaking her own personal record on match point.
“I went for it, but I wasn’t going for it that hard. Every time I go for it, to hit it really hard, it goes in the 190s,” she said.
“So when I hit the 207, I was like, OK the first one wasn’t luck, maybe I can hit 207. So it was pretty cool.”
As for the ankle? The strapping was less than it was in her second round, and her movement never looked severely compromised. “It’s definitely doing better,” she said. “I’m still taking it a day at a time.”
But it will take a tougher opponent to demonstrate if it really is a problem or not.
Speaking of problems, as Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka were, Serena was also asked for her opinion on Lance Armstrong, whom she revealed she had met briefly.
“I think as an athlete, as someone that works really, really hard since I was four or three, I think it’s a sad day for athletes in general,” she said.
“But I think that overall it’s even more disappointing for the people that were adversely affected through everything. You can only hope for the best for them.”
But back to the tennis. Serena’s next opponent is Maria Kirilenko, who survived a tough tussle with Yanina Wickmayer, and Serena is under no illusions that the Russian will run and run.
“Maria is playing consistent tennis, especially in the past 16, 18 months. So my goal is just to be really focused against such a player that’s doing so well.”
One hazards a guess it will be a sixth win out of six for Serena on Monday. But, as she says, little by little.