No.2 seed Serena Williams overcame a stern test from former World No.7 Belinda Bencic to begin her quest for a seventh Australian Open title.
WTA Staff

MELBOURNE, Australia - World No.2 Serena Williams kicked off her quest for a seventh Australian Open crown with a decisive 6-4, 6-3 victory over Belinda Bencic to ease into the second round.

"I think it was pretty good," Serena said of the match in her post-match press conference. I mean, she's a really good player. So I think I was able to start out well."

Serena came to Melbourne with an outside shot of reclaiming the No.1 ranking from defending champion Angelique Kerber - the American must reach the final to remain in contention - but first had to take care of Bencic, a former World No.7 who had beaten her in their last encounter at the 2015 Rogers Cup.

"I feel like she definitely has a lot more power. Obviously she beat me in Canada the last time we played, but I really don't remember much about that match."

Bencic used that winning week in Canada as a springboard towards becoming the youngest Top 10 debutante since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009, but injuries almost immediately stunted her progress and caused her to be unseeded ahead of the Australian Open.

Knowing this wasn't a typical first round, Serena put on a solid display throughout the one hour, 21 minute match, though the affair was hardly without its hiccups. The 22-time Grand Slam champion drew first blood to earn a 3-1 lead, only to see Bencic fight back and hold onto level terms until the all-important tenth game, when Serena surged ahead to beak for the set.

The second appeared to be a foregone conclusion as the No.2 seed rode the wave of momentum out to 5-0, but Bencic had one last comeback in store, narrowing the lead to 5-3 before Serena sealed the deal on her second match point.

"I just wasn't as aggressive as I was during those games. She started playing better. I made a few errors on some key points, but for the most part, I still was going for everything and I was able to close it out."

Keeping her side of the stat sheet as clean as she could, the former World No.1 hit exactly 30 winners to 30 unforced errors; she looked especially strong on serve with eight aces to four double faults.

Up next for the six-time Australian Open champion is another former rival in Lucie Safarova, who saved a whopping nine match points to defeat Yanina Wickmayer, 3-6, 7-6(9), 6-1 to book a rematch of the 2015 French Open final.