NEW YORK — After a rough-for-her Grand Slam season, Serena Williams came into the U.S. Open with a new approach. So far, so good.
Unable to make it past the fourth round at any of the first three major tournaments in 2014, Williams began her bid for a third consecutive U.S. Open title with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over American teen Taylor Townsend on Aug. 26.
Afterward, Williams was asked whether she changed anything about her preparation for this tournament, which she has won five times overall.
“I’ve decided I’m not going to overthink it. I think I’ve overthought every Grand Slam so far this year. It didn’t really work out great for me,” Williams said. “So worst-case scenario, I’m just going to stay positive and do the best I can. That’s all I can do.”
The No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams’ best was pretty good in the all-American matchup against Townsend, an 18-year-old who is ranked 103rd and was given a wild card into the draw.
Williams made only eight unforced errors and needed only 55 minutes to wrap up the victory. She is trying to become the first woman to win the U.S. Open three years in a row since Chris Evert took four straight trophies from 1975-78.
Not since 2006 has Williams failed to reach at least one final at a year’s four Grand Slam tournaments. But she lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open, the second round at the French Open, and the third round at Wimbledon.
She’ll face another American, Vania King, in the second round at Flushing Meadows.
Townsend acknowledged afterward she was a tad overwhelmed by the occasion. Not only was this her U.S. Open debut, but she was facing a 17-time major champion under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest arena in Grand Slam tennis.
“It was just a lot of different emotions and feelings that were coming. It was hard to deal with,” said the gregarious Townsend, who beat a seeded player en route to reaching the third round at the French Open in her Grand Slam debut this year.
“Being nervous,” Townsend said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s going to smack the ball at me in my face, so get ready.’”
Townsend said that she and Williams developed a rapport during the U.S. Fed Cup team’s matches in Delray Beach, Florida, in April 2013.
Townsend didn’t play, but was invited to be with the team, and she got a chance to chat with Williams and her older sister Venus during a rain delay. “We didn’t even talk about tennis,” Townsend recalled. “We started talking about hair and nails, of course.”
After losing, Townsend referred to her 32-year-old opponent as one of her “tennis idols.”
“She’s an African-American woman from Compton, California, who has won 17 or 16 Grand Slam titles. Like, who would have thought? Anything is possible. She’s paved the way for me and not only African-American girls but girls in general, people in general,” Townsend said. “Just has changed the game of tennis. I think I’ve just learned, like, from her story that anything is possible.”
(HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer)