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Serena Starts Strong, Maria & Kim Win Too

Four former World No.1s took the courts on Thursday afternoon, but not all of them survived.

Published March 22, 2012 12:00

Serena Starts Strong, Maria & Kim Win Too
Serena Williams

MIAMI, FL, USA - One of the best players in the history of the Sony Ericsson Open made a winning return to the Premier-level event on Thursday after a three year absence, as Serena Williams beat Zhang Shuai in straight sets.

Williams, who has won five titles here - tied with Steffi Graf for most in the tournament's history, had to miss the last two years due to injury and illness. But she was sharp in her return Thursday, literally: the No.10-seeded Williams broke serve four times en route to a 62 63 win over the Chinese wildcard.

"I think she played really well. She's pretty young. She's doing really well," Williams said. "I was a little bit rusty and a little bit nervous too, for whatever reason. I haven't played here for so long and I wanted to do well. So I was really nervous out there, but I think now I've gotten one under I'll be better."

Williams is now 12-0 in opening matches in Miami - a perfect record to go along with her perfect record in openers at Grand Slams (she is 46-0 in those). But like she says at the majors, first matches are not easy by any means.

"I'm always a little nervous in the first round, and I kind of chill out after that," she commented. "It's always the same. It's always been the same. Last time I played I played horrible, and I was thinking as long as I don't hit a ball into the stands I'll be good - I didn't do that today, so it worked out well for me."

Williams' five titles here came in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. She is also a two-time finalist, in 1999 (losing to Venus Williams) and 2009 (losing to Victoria Azarenka). She spoke of her sister's return to the WTA in her presser.

"It was amazing. I was so happy for her. She played a really tough opponent and played really well," Williams said. "She's been through so much, and to know you can go through that and continue to play and never give up gave me hope and inspiration. I felt like at some points I would give up and she never did.

"Venus just really inspires me. And not just in tennis, but, you know, in life in general. She has inspired so many people."

Williams wasn't the only former No.1 in action on Thursday afternoon, with three more taking the court. No.2 seed Maria Sharapova lost the first set but fought back to beat Shahar Peer, 46 63 63; Kim Clijsters survived a wacky second set to close out No.14 seed Julia Goerges, 62 75; and No.13 seed Jelena Jankovic wasn't so lucky, falling quietly to Mona Barthel, 60 63.

The second set of the Clijsters match lasted over an hour and saw nine of 12 games go against the server. "With these weather conditions it's tough serving," Clijsters said. "I don't think there's anybody who plays a whole tournament with perfect tennis, so you have to try and battle through, and find the solutions when you're not playing your best. Mentally, that's one of the biggest focuses I have when I step out on the court here in Miami, where it can get very windy."

Goerges was very complimentary of the four-time Grand Slam champion. "Of course she's a great player and a great champion," the German said. "I watched her a bit yesterday and today she definitely played better. I stepped it up in the second set and had my chances, but I just couldn't manage it. It was a tough second round for me to play against her, but I think I'm on the right track."

Barthel won the first seven games of her match against Jankovic and broke again midway through the second set, eventually scoring her first Top 20 win against the No.15-ranked Serb. "I don't think she was playing her best tennis, but I'm happy I took my opportunity," Barthel said. "I had never played her before but I played a solid match. I just played my game and I'm happy it worked out."

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