French runner-up Dementieva ousted

Updated: June 23, 2004, 10:05 AM ET news services

WIMBLEDON, England -- Serena Williams walked out on Centre Court with a diva's confidence Tuesday and extended her winning streak to 15 matches at the All England Club.

Serena Williams
Serena was simply too powerful for her first-round opponent.

Enjoying the oomph her serves and other strokes gain on grass, Williams opened her bid for a third straight Wimbledon title by beating Zheng Jie of China 6-3, 6-1.

"The most special thing is coming back as champ," said Williams, who smacked six aces at up to 121 mph and saved all 10 break points she faced. "Win, lose or draw, it's a great feeling to be defending champion at Wimbledon. I don't get that feeling at any other Grand Slam."

The top-seeded Williams wasn't her dominating self in a tougher-than-expected outing against the 52nd-ranked Zheng, who showed no signs of being overawed against the two-time defending champion.

Three weeks after last year's Wimbledon final, Williams had left knee surgery and missed eight months of her day job. There was time for acting and clothes designing, however.

She looked shaky in her Slam return at the French Open, losing to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals. But Wimbledon changes everything for Williams.

"When I'm on the set of a movie, it's exciting. I love it. I love being there. When I'm designing a dress, an outfit, I'm really into that," said Williams, who's ranked 10th but seeded first. "But it just doesn't beat walking out onto Centre Court at Wimbledon."

Wearing an all-white outfit with snow-white headband, Serena looked every inch the champion as she took to the court.

Her movement was not as slick as it might have been but it was enough to see off Zheng.

Zheng, a baseliner, battled gamely but she was no match for the power and match savvy of Williams who slowly edged herself to victory despite spraying as many errors as she hit thumping winners.

Williams broke in the first game of the match. She was briefly threatened on her own serve in the fourth game but held from love-40 down.

Zheng, playing at Wimbledon for the first time, refused to be cowed but Williams was simply too powerful, breaking again for 6-3 when she smashed a high lob into the open court on set point after half an hour of play.

The 22-year-old American opened her powerful shoulders on her next service game and crunched four unstoppable deliveries at her opponent.

Zheng was powerless and running out of ideas. Williams broke her again for 2-0 and then held, despite a glut of sloppy errors, for a 3-0 lead.

Another break for 4-0 and the Chinese player's spirit was broken.

She won one more game -- largely thanks to some awful returning from the champion -- before Williams finally made it past the finishing line moments later.

Serena hasn't won a Grand Slam title since beating Venus in last year's Wimbledon final, and had an eight-month layoff after knee surgery last August. She is bidding to become the first player to win Wimbledon three straight times since Steffi Graf in 1991, '92 and '93.

In an early upset, sixth-seeded Dementieva of Russia -- a finalist at the French Open -- was bounced 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 by Sandra Kleinova of the Czech Republic. Dementieva, who had 67 double faults during the French Open, served her 11th double fault on match point.

Another Russian, No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova, was eliminated by France's Virginie Razzano, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4. No. 17 Chanda Rubin was ousted by Marion Bartoli, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 7 Jennifer Capriati had their matches moved to Wednesday. The tournament was disrupted by rain for a second straight day. Play was called off at 7 p.m. with 14 matches still in progress.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.