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Slick Serena swats aside Strycova to advance

Williams of the U.S hits a return to Strycova of the Czech Republic at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.
Williams of the U.S hits a return to Strycova of the Czech Republic at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

By Peter Rutherford

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Serena Williams said before the start of the Australian Open that even with just two warm-up matches under her belt she was ready for Melbourne. More than ready it seems.

The American, with lattice-work strapping snaking up from her injured left ankle to behind her knee, brushed aside Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-0 6-4 in just over an hour to reach the third round Thursday.

Five-times champion Williams was unable to aim for a hat-trick of titles last year due to injury and there were concerns she would not be ready for the season's first grand slam after pulling out of the Brisbane International with her sore ankle.

After shaking off the rust in the first round against Tamira Paszek, Williams was on song from the outset on Thursday, blasting baseline winners past Strycova and racing through the first set in just 22 minutes.

Her Czech opponent won her first service game of the second set, eliciting enthusiastic applause from the crowd, but the Williams response was predictable, the 30-year-old winning her next serve to love and breaking Strycova to go 3-1 up.

Williams had her first wobble while serving for the match at 5-3, giving Strycova a sniff of hope, and the American looked in trouble when a change of direction left her sitting on the sun-baked court grimacing.

But Williams got back to her feet and promptly broke Strycova's serve to seal the set 6-4 and earn her place in the third round.

'NOT A BALLERINA'

Williams, who racked up her 500th match win with the victory, said her ankle was still causing her problems, a potential issue for tougher tests ahead.

"It's fine, I just have really wobbly ankles," she said in a televised interview. "I wasn't meant to be a ballerina or anything."

Much has been made of Williams' fight to stay healthy after a catalog of injuries kept her off court for most of last year, but the world number 12 said she felt fine and that her tumble Thursday had not exacerbated her ankle issue.

"It's totally fine, it was my good ankle," she said in the post-match news conference. "There was no extra pain, it was fine. I twisted it but it's all taped up, so the tape really, really helped."

Williams, who will play Dominika Cibulkova or Greta Arn in the next round, thought it was "really, really cool" to have reached 500 wins but had no plans to rest on her laurels.

"The first thing I asked, of course, 'Is there anyone that achieved 1,000?' I guess not. I never will get there either.

"Five hundred is a lot of matches to play, let alone to win, so it's pretty cool."

After Marcos Baghdatis smashed four racquets in a spectacular fit of pique in the third set against Stanislas Wawrinka Wednesday, Williams was asked if that kind of outburst helped or hindered a player.

"I actually used to break a lot of racquets on the court," said Williams, whose own fiery temper saw her tarnish the U.S. Open final against Sam Stosur with a sensational outburst at a chair umpire last September.

"I sometimes break them in practice, just not in a match anymore. I think when you're young it kind of maybe lets out a little frustration. It's just is a way to express yourself.

"I got to a place where I could see how many places I could crack in a racquet. I got five. But it's definitely not the best way to release your anger. I think the older you get, you realize there's more different ways."

Williams was in awe when told Baghdatis has smashed four racquets in a minute.

"I've never done that. That's impressive," she added.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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