NEW YORK » Serena Williams was so dominant in the first round of the U.S. Open, her opponent really wanted a hug.
So midway through the second set of defending champion Williams’ 6-0, 6-1 victory Monday night, Francesca Schiavone wandered behind the baseline, found a ball boy and enveloped him in a full-fledged embrace.
"I don’t need a hug in that moment," Schiavone joked afterward. "I need a game."
It was that kind of evening for Schiavone, an often-demonstrative player who is certainly no pushover: She won the 2010 French Open, was the runner-up at that Grand Slam tournament a year later, and twice has been a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open. She’s been ranked as high as No. 4 but is 54th this week.
"I knew playing a former Grand Slam champion in the first round was a really, really tough draw," Williams said, "so I tried to be super serious."
All told, the match only took an hour. And it ended right in time, as far as Williams was concerned, because a light rain began to fall just at the conclusion in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Eventually, play was suspended for the day, and the last scheduled match of the night session, 17-time major champion Roger Federer vs. 62nd-ranked Grega Zemlja of Slovenia, was postponed until today.
The No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams was nearly perfect, never facing a break point, making only eight unforced errors, compiling a 13-3 edge in winners, hitting serves faster than 115 mph, and taking the first 10 games. Schiavone didn’t help herself by hitting eight double-faults.
"It was tough today," said Schiavone, who is working with Peter Lundgren, one of Federer’s former coaches. "Really, really tough."
When Schiavone finally got on the board more than 50 minutes into the match, holding serve to win her first game with a volley winner, she swung her right fist in a celebratory roundhouse punch and shouted. Her face then broke into a wide smile while she strutted to the sideline, and she tossed her racket toward her changeover chair.
"It was very, very nice to win a game," Schiavone said. "For the first time in my life, I felt joy from winning a single game."
Earlier, with the outcome already in no doubt at 6-0, 2-0, Schiavone found herself facing yet another break point. She made her way to a ball boy, rested her head on his right shoulder, and squeezed him tight. Moments later, with Williams having wrapped up the break, Schiavone went to sit down in her seat, put her palms in the air and shrugged, as if to say, "What can I possibly do against her tonight?"
At Williams’ news conference, she was asked by an Italian reporter: "Did you really want to win 6-love, 6-love against the poor Schiavone?"
That drew a chuckle from Williams, who responded: "No, it wasn’t that. I was just out there, trying to be focused."
She is seeking her fifth U.S. Open championship, and 17th Grand Slam title overall. She improved to 61-4 in 2013 and has won eight tournaments.
Earlier in the day, on the same court, Williams’ older sister Venus won her first-round match, 6-1, 6-2 against 12th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium.
"I haven’t had a lot of time to talk to her, but I was really happy she did well," Serena said about Venus. "She’s really inspiring to me."