Serena out of touch as sisters stutter through

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The Independent Online

Serena Williams, the twice former champion and losing finalist here last year, yesterday survived a first-round, three-set scare at the hands of Angela Haynes, a 20-year-old fellow American, to join her sister Venus, who endured her own, lesser first-round struggle, in the second round.

Serena Williams, the twice former champion and losing finalist here last year, yesterday survived a first-round, three-set scare at the hands of Angela Haynes, a 20-year-old fellow American, to join her sister Venus, who endured her own, lesser first-round struggle, in the second round.

Haynes, from Irvine, California, won an epic first-set tie-break 14-12 but eventually succumbed 7-6, 4-6, 2-6 after Serena asserted her grass court superiority. "I felt really rusty out there," Serena said. "But Angela played really well. She served well. She was really focused."

Serena, the No 4 seed, played her usual powerful baseline game, but Haynes, in her tournament debut forced the lengthy tie-break that Serena lost with a forehand that flew long. Serena vented her frustration by smashing her racket into the ground, breaking it, for which she earned a warning from the umpire.

"It's actually quite tough to break it on grass," she joked afterwards. "I'll give it away now."

The key moment in the second set came at 4-4 when a disputed line call led to a replayed point, won by Serena, who gained momentum and pulled away. She broke Haynes in the fifth game of the decider for 3-2, and won the three remaining games at a canter.

Venus's most graceful, expressive sequence yesterday was her victory pirouette. One moment she was scrapping, dour-faced, even slightly weary, which is how she looked through much of her 6-2, 6-4 first-round win over Eva Birnerova. The next, after the 20-year-old Czech plonked another shot long, she was a ballerina on a jewellery box, a twirling smile. The only thing missing was a tinkly "Fur Elise".

Serena gave arguably the more indicative performance, being tested fully by Haynes, the world No 104. Birnerova should never have been a tough assignment for Venus - the queen of the lawns here in 2000 and 2001, before Serena reigned in 2002 and 2003. Venus's game, if not quite out of tune, is far from hitting the high notes. Her serve was hard (rising to 118mph) and functional (she won 67 per cent of service points). But it fell short of the brutality of old.

Her movement was fine, by most players' standards. But by the heights of her own, it looked a pace slow, lacking fluidity. "Today was a little strange because she was always playing me up the middle," she explained. "Then the ball's bouncing strange. I have long arms and legs. When the ball gets close to me, I'm not able to move forward because I have to get out of my own way."

That might be true, but it was not the kind of thing she was saying often, if at all, five years ago. Nor, then, was she making so many errors. There were plenty yesterday. Venus won, however, because she was still simply better than her opponent, the world No 111 who secured a main draw place as a lucky loser from Roehampton qualifying.

Still, a win is a win. That was the subtext of Venus's post-match analysis. "I got to hit a lot of balls. It was sunny. That was nice," she said.

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