Serena Williams, on her way to the calendar year Grand Slam, might look back on her win over Kiki Bertens yesterday as getting out of the starting blocks at the U.S. Open.
After all, her first-round match on Monday against Vitalia Diatchenko was a virtual walkover, with the injured Russian retiring early in the second set after not winning a game.
Williams got a workout from Bertens, fell behind a break in the first set and fell behind 4-0 in the tiebreak.
But she came back to win the set and the match and she's on to the third round with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win that was somewhat more difficult than the scoreline would indicate and didn't leave Williams completely satisfied.
Williams' serve was a bit off, as were her groundstrokes. That led to that first service break. Bertens served for the first set in the 10th game but was down quickly, making several forehand errors, and was broken. But she had a good chance again in the tiebreak. A series of backhand errors let Williams recover all four points and go on to take the set.
The second set, while still competitive, left no doubt which player was moving on.
Williams went to the practice court after her victory, upset that she had made 10 double faults in the match.
"You know, just trying to get those second serves in,'' she said. "I don't know what was on my mind at that point. I was just trying to keep fighting.''
For Bertens, it was a career highlight and a confidence builder.
"It was great to play today in a crowd like this against No. 1 in the world and I think I played a good match and had my chances in the first set and I didn't take it,'' the 23-year-old Dutch qualifier said.
Bertens got her first chance on a big stage at Wimbledon this summer when she played a first-round match against two-time champion Petra Kvitova and was routed, 6-1, 6-0, in less than an hour.
"I wasn't there on the court, it was like 35 minutes,'' she said. "Today I played a good match, wasn't nervous at all and was just going for every shot. I made the big step forwards.
"I was talking with my coach before and he said, 'OK, don't focus on the score, just focus on hitting as many good shots as you can.' ''
Williams next will play Bethanie Mattek-Sands, an American who finally has gotten past the second round of the Open in her 14th appearance, beating Coco Vandeweghe, 6-2, 6-1. The lively Mattek-Sands sounded up for the challenge.
"I mean right now, she's on a mission to get a record and I'm here playing my game," the 30-year-old Mattek-Sands said. "I think it's going to be a battle out there. Right now I'm giving myself the best chance I can to play well. That's all I can ask for."
Williams said she can, and will, ask more of herself.
"I definitely feel more determined to do better than what I did," she said. "I know I can play better. It wasn't one of my happiest moments. You know, I don't think you should be happy with just winning. At least I'm not. Maybe other people can . . .
"If I don't play well, I'm not going to be happy even if I won."