Melbourne: Serena Williams launched her bid for a 23rd Grand Slam title with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open on Tuesday, swatting aside doubts over her fitness and motivation on a sweltering day at Melbourne Park.
The 35-year-old American came into the tie with two matches under her belt since the US Open last September, but moved superbly under a hot sun at Rod Laver Arena to rout the Swiss talent in 79 minutes.
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Serena ramped up the pressure at 4-4 to win seven straight games before Bencic stalled her victory charge with a late rally.
Serena wobbled with a double-fault on match point, but smashed a volley on her second to close it out and set up a second round clash with Czech Lucie Safarova.
Pliskova has it easy
Meanwhile, fifth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova, runner-up at the US Open last year, stormed into the second round with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Sara Sorribes Torm of Spain.
Until she reached the final in New York, a run that included victory over Serena in the semifinals, Pliskova had never gone beyond the third round at any of the Grand Slams.
But success breeds confidence and with the first hurdle negotiated, the 24-year-old says she will be able to settle down and focus on her title bid.
"If I pass the first round then I feel I can be dangerous for all the players and I can play better and better as it goes on," Pliskova told Reuters in an interview at Melbourne Park.
"Reaching the final at the US Open was a huge experience for me. Until then I hadn't passed the third round (of a Slam).
"I was waiting for this chance for a long time and I was just happy I could go even further and didn't just finish in the fourth round.
"Even when you're not playing your best, somehow you have to win because I know I can be dangerous deep in the tournament, quarters and semis and when there are big players I can beat them."
The Czech was barely tested on Tuesday, banging down five aces and hitting 26 winners to get off the court within an hour, a wise move on a day when temperatures hit 35 Celsius by 11 am local time.