Serena loses just one game to qualifier

Updated: March 27, 2004, 1:10 AM ET
Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Resplendent rather than rusty, Serena Williams looked like a costumed superhero and played pretty well, too.

She unveiled a sleek, new, white and silver outfit, smacked aces, pumped her fist and won in 42 minutes.

Serena's back, ending an eight-month layoff by easily advancing at the Nasdaq-100 Open with a 6-1, 6-0 victory Friday over qualifier Marta Marrero.

The match was the first for Williams since she earned her sixth Grand Slam title by beating older sister Venus at Wimbledon last July. She had been sidelined since undergoing knee surgery Aug. 1.

"I was very nervous going out there," she said. "Then I decided that I'm just going to go out there and do the best I can."

During the layoff, Williams designed clothes and signed a new Nike contract, and curiosity regarding the state of her game was rivaled by anticipation of her latest outfit. She wore a metallic silver warmup coat and a white and silver sleeveless dress with a wide corset that glistened in the Florida sun.

Sparkling letters in her bandanna spelled "SERENA," ensuring she wouldn't be mistaken for Wonder Woman, Judy Jetson or Xena: Warrior Princess. Eight consecutive questions at Williams' postmatch news conference focused on the outfit.

"Hollywood glam," she said. "Its corset design makes me look very, very slim."

She remains a heavyweight on the women's tour, and now that Williams is back, much of her competition is missing. She has slipped to No. 6 in the rankings, but the five players ahead of her -- including top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne -- are all absent from the Key Biscayne field, leaving Williams seeded No. 1.

A potential opponent in the final is No. 2-seeded Venus Williams, scheduled to open her bid for a fourth Key Biscayne title Saturday. Because of injuries, she has played just six matches since Wimbledon.

Also in the mix is No. 4 Jennifer Capriati, who opened by beating Klara Koukalova 6-0, 6-1. Sixth-seeded Ai Sugiyama lost to Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-1, 7-5.

Now, back to Williams' dress: Nike identified the material as silk with satin/lycra blend panels (dry clean only).

"I had a lot of input into the design, which is great working with this team," she said. "I told them when I first met them, 'Look, I'm really into looking really good on the court. I don't have to be very comfortable.'"

She made Marrero uncomfortable from the start. Williams' first swing produced a service winner, and she won eight of the first nine points with minimal effort. She closed each set with an ace, displaying the same overpowering game that had her ranked No. 1 when sidelined.

A shaky Marrero offered little resistance, winning just 23 of 74 points and double-faulting eight times.

"I could tell she was a little bit nervous," Williams said. "It's kind of hard to play a player that everyone has hyped up so much about the big comeback."

Capriati, runner-up to Williams the past two years at Key Biscayne, wasn't surprised to see her rival win so easily.

"You're never going to forget how to ride a bike, you know," Capriati said. "Some things are just so natural."

How did Williams grade her performance?

"I've never given myself 100 percent," she said. "I'm pretty much insatiable."

The stadium was mostly empty and the crowd subdued, even when Williams completed her win. But she grinned, waved and blew kisses, polishing her celebratory ritual for more significant victories to come.

It won't always be about the clothes.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press