It took her a few games to find her groove Wednesday, but Serena Williams soon focused and delivered the kind of dominance she has oft displayed when playing in Canada.
The world No.1 and top seed at the Rogers Cup knocked off Italy's Francesca Schiavone 6-3, 6-2 in just 75 minutes, improving to 52-3 in her incredible 2013 season.
Williams, who earned a third-round matchup with Germany's Kirsten Flipkens, has 53 WTA singles titles to her name, including 16 Grand Slams. The American has won two Rogers Cups, including her last visit to Toronto in 2010, when she was unseeded and in the early, emotional stages of a comeback after a 49-week absence from tennis because of a foot injury and serious blood clots in her lungs.
This year, she arrived at Rexall Centre the heavy tournament favourite. Since last competing in Toronto, she has claimed 10 WTA titles, three Grand Slams, an Olympic gold and the WTA championship.
When the night began on Centre Court, one might have believed, if even briefly, Williams might get a challenge from Schiavone, the fiery Italian who won the French Open in 2010, and held a 2-4 career record against the U.S. star.
Schiavone took a quick 3-2 lead in the first set while Williams struggled. There were few long rallies in the early going, as both women battled with unforced errors.
Williams repeatedly hit the ball into the net, and would then mutter to herself and swing her racquet as though to correct her swing. The 31-year-old seemed particularly frustrated with herself when Schiavone broke her serve midway through the first set, the game sealed by one such Williams blunder into the net.
From there, Williams was entirely dialled in. Her intensity increased as she began to deliver some of her signature, wicked ground strokes. She charged back and broke Schiavone twice to win the set.
From there, Schiavone began to stagger, suddenly it was the Italian hitting the ball into the net and struggling with double faults for the rest of the night. Williams took over, aggressively thundering missiles down the line and delivering serves at speeds as high as 194 kilometres an hour, while Schiavone was scrambling to return what Williams was dishing her way.
"I felt good, I felt solid. I, obviously, made a few errors, but it was just my first match on hard court in a really long time, so it took me a few games to adjust," Williams said. "Now, I feel completely adjusted. I feel good going into the next round."
Down the stretch of the match, Williams showed the sort of play she has displayed while thriving much of this season, not the type she had displayed in a surprising round-of-16 loss at Wimbledon to world No.24 Sabine Lisicki.
"Some cities, I have just grown to have a good feeling in. Every time I come to Toronto, either for an exhibition or for this great tournament, I have lots of great friends here and it's fun because they only see me when I play here," Williams said. "Any excuse I get to come to Toronto, I love it."
Late Wednesday night, Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., lost to sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova. Earlier in the day, Sharon Fichman of Toronto lost 6-4, 7-6 to 15th-seeded Jelena Jankovic, ranked No.14 in the world. While it was a straight-sets victory, the former world No.1 from Serbia had to fend off the 22-year-old Canadian in a fiery second-set tie-breaker to advance to the third round.