The world number one had barely swung a racquet in anger since her
U.S. Open exit last September and entered a sweltering Rod Laver
Arena to face the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw amid
speculation about the condition of her left knee.
Williams pulled out of her first match at the Hopman Cup in Perth
earlier this month due to knee inflammation but the 34-year-old
moved freely during a testing opener against Giorgi and said it gave
her no problems.
"(The knee is) great. It was an hour and 43 minutes and I didn't
feel it at all," Williams told reporters.
"I think I served well today. I think ... I got broken once, but
other than that I was able to stay focused on that part."
Showing none of the lethargy that has sometimes dogged her in early
grand slam matches, a calm and focused Williams roared to a 4-1 lead
as the temperature soared over 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit).
But 36th-ranked Giorgi, a slightly built player packing a meaty
forehand, steadied herself to drag Williams into a baseline battle
and the American's screams of frustration underlined the growing
tension as the match progressed.
Though a match for Williams in terms of court speed and fire-power,
Giorgi landed barely a third of her first serves and gave up the
decisive break at 5-5 in the second set with her 12th double-fault.
Williams needed no further invitation and closed out the match with
a customary barrage of booming first serves.
[to top of second column]
A shock semi-final upset at Flushing Meadows by unseeded Italian
Roberta Vinci ended Williams' bids for both a 22nd major title and a
rare calendar grand slam.
The loss plunged the American into a period of introspection but the
win over Giorgi showed she has lost none of her competitive fire.
Williams, who next faces 90th-ranked Taiwanese Hsieh Su-Wei, said
the break from the game helped her a lot.
"I have been going non-stop since the London Olympics, and seeing
that this is another Olympic year, I kind of wanted to start the
year out really fresh and really go at it again as hard as I can,"
"I just needed that time to just recover the best of my ability and
get really fit ... and really train and get ready for the season."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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