Wimbledon - Venus cruises into second round
Venus Williams crushed Akgul Amanmuradova 6-3 6-1 to reach the second round at Wimbledon.
Moving smoothly and striking the ball with the power that has made her such a force on Wimbledon's grass, there were no signs of the abdominal-related problem that wiped out most of the year and left her seeded only 23rd.
Under a warm sun with the grass lush and green after two weeks of relentless rain, it was just like old times as Williams donned an eye-catching outfit and blasted past her opponent from Uzbekistan, ranked 97th in the world and now a first-time loser in all five Wimbledon appearances.
For once, the 31-year-old American, whose last Wimbledon title came in 2008, was the smallest woman on the court as the 6ft 3ins (1.90m) Amanmuradova had two inches on her.
Williams, though, looked the superior athlete and said her run at Eastbourne last week, where she had three tough matches, helped get her back in the swing.
"I missed being out here playing, especially since having left the game about a year ago so highly ranked, and things were going so well," she said.
"To play a few matches in Eastbourne I think helped me to feel pretty comfortable here.
"Having not played a lot I had a little pressure on me to come out and swing as usual. There was a little bit of tension. I have a lot of expectations to go out there and play as I do in practice, which I've been hitting the ball really well."
Williams said she had only been able to practise within the last month after pulling out of the Australian Open seven minutes into her third-round match.
"Australia was not ideal, but hopefully I've recovered from that," she said.
"I try to be smart now, coming back from injury, not doing too much, just coming back and being smart; like not playing doubles here is a smart move. Coming back has been real slow and something I couldn't rush.
"That's the beauty I think of being able to have a long career, is being able to use the experience that you learn on the court."
The 31-year-old Williams, who last won Wimbledon in 2008, will next play Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm.
Veteran Date-Krumm became the first woman through to the second round when she dispatched Brit Katie O'Brien 6-1 7-5 on Court Three, the first set taking just 15 minutes.
At 40 years and eight months Date-Krumm became the second oldest player to win a singles match at Wimbledon after Martina Navratilova.
Second seed Vera Zvonareva of Russia struggled past American Alison Riske 6-0 3-6 6-3.Last year's runner-up motored through the opening set in 25 minutes, overpowering her 20-year-old opponent.
But the world number 115 fought back in the second, clinching her first game with a strong volley which was met by an eruption of cheers from the crowd.
At two games apiece the American, playing with a red, white and blue racket, mustered her fastest serves of the match to power two aces past Zvonareva.
A wide crosscourt backhand from 26-year-old Zvonareva, who played much of the match in long sleeves despite the humid weather, gifted Riske a break and put her ahead at 4-2.
Serving for the set, nerves seemed to get the better of Riske, who mis-threw the ball twice before double faulting. But she soon overcame them, securing the set after Zvonareva netted a return.
Despite taking an early 2-0 lead, Zvonareva continued to struggle in the decider with Riske, sensing the chance of a major upset, quickly breaking back to keep the game tally level until 3-3.
But for all Riske's efforts Zvonareva, who seemed to be expending much less energy than her opponent, broke ahead at 5-3 and cruised through the final game to polish the match off with an ace which Riske did not even attempt to return.
"I'm really happy I was able to pull it off in the end," Zvonareva told the BBC.
"She played some good tennis but I tried to stay focused. I had some ups and downs but I'm really happy.
"I lost my concentration for a bit but I always fight for every point and I was able to pick it up in the third set".
Zvonareva will play compatriot Elena Vesnina in the second round after the Russian beat Spain's Laura Pous-Tio 6-4 6-3.
Russian 12th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova overcame an opening round scare when she battled back from a set beat China's Shuai Zhang 3-6 6-3 6-4 to set up a second round clash with Romania's Alexandra Dulgheru, a 6-2 6-4 winner over veteran Jill Craybas.
Kaia Kanepi, seeded 17, was the highest seed to fall on day one, when she fell 6-1 6-4 to Italian Sara Errani, while 22nd seed Shahar Peer and 28th seed Ekaterina Makarova also both lost, to Ksenia Pervak and Christina McHale respectively.