Serena Williams proved one sister too many for Laura Robson but theLondon teenager, who took four games off the American with 15 grand slams to her name, leaves the ATP Rome Masters event with the encouragement that she is not out of her depth at or near the top of women's tennis.
Playing the world No1 for the first time, Robson could not find the game she brought to bear in her first match against a tentative Venus in the opening round on Monday, but there were several moments when she gave as good as she got.
Williams won 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 15 minutes but for the first quarter of an hour – Robson broke within four minutes – there was little in it. In the most competitive game of the match, the fifth in the second set, Williams needed an ace to save the first of two break points as Robson continued to thump the ball without fear.
It is her greatest asset, set against obvious flaws, not the least her serve. Robsonadmits she has been troubled by her ball-toss for a while and that showed no real improvement as doubt invaded her delivery and she gifted Williams eight double faults – tennis suicide against someone of Williams's power.
"It wasn't an easy match," Williams said later, "a lot of balls flying about. Laura has even more potentially than I thought. She has a big serve and she is so relaxed and that adds another dimension to your game. She doesn't have too many weak points."
In the men's draw, Novak Djokovic confirmed he is still the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal on clay after a cobweb-shedding workout of just 69min against the Spanish qualifier Albert Montañés. The Serb was strong in the serve, moved comfortably over the clay on his recently rolled right ankle and was happy with a 6-2, 6-3 win – sealed with just his third ace – to book a third-round match against either Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland or his second-round opponent, Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Should the in-form Wawrinka win, through, it will be his first meeting with Djokovic since the fourth round of the Australian Open, when the Swiss played probably the best tennis of his career before losing in five sets in the match of the tournament.
Since he broke Nadal's eight-year reign at Monte Carlo last month, Djokovic has looked more like the player who terrorised the circuit in 2011 (beating Nadal six times, twice on clay), although not quite as invincible as on that streak. This year he has won 26 matches and lost three – impressive by any standards.
Djokovic, who has reached the Rome final in four of the past five years, winning in 2008 and during his unbeaten run in 2011, will be seriously inspired for Roland Garros if he ends up beating Wawrinka, who had his anxious moments on Court Pietrangeli.
But the Swiss has been surfing a grand wave of form in recent weeks, including a two-sets win over Andy Murray in Monte Carlo, and back-to-back victories over Grigor Dimitrov, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych in Madrid last week. Wawrinka looked tired in dropping the first set against the Argentinian qualifier Carlos Belocq in his first-round match, however, and was obliged to call for the trainer to attend to a muscle strain in his right thigh before regrouping to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
He is back in the top 10 for the first time since October 2008, after giving Nadal a good argument in the Madrid final. This was his 10th win in 11 matches and his year's tally already stands at 26 against nine defeats; last year it took him until the Cincinnati Masters, just before the US Open, to post a 26th win.
The match with most potential for entertainment – Richard Gasquet against Dimitrov – disappointed, but not by much. The Frenchman, once the best teenager in the world, and the young Bulgarian, fresh from beating Djokovic in Madrid, played some beautiful tennis.
Dimitrov is 22 and growing in stature by the tournament, but he is not yet consistent enough to move on level terms with the likes of the No9 seed Gasquet, who won 6-4, 6-4.
Nadal and Murray are the last of the Big Four to enter the lists on Wednesday. The Spaniard – who is on Djokovic's side of the draw – will play against the temperamental Italian Fabio Fognini in the evening and the Scot goes against Marcel Granollers of Spain in the second match of the day.
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image: © marianne bevis