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Serena continues winning ways in Rio singles

RIO DE JANIERO — Her Snapchat photo from the bus ride to opening ceremonies was characterized by Serena Williams as her "hungry face."

It definitely wasn't a happy one as she described a long, cold, miserable journey: "So I don't mean to be Debbie Downer or a Serena Downer, but I'm kind of ready to go," she wrote. "I'm really tired, I'm overwhelmed."

By the time she got to Maracana Stadium, the photos and videos turned to twerking, and her sense of wonder at her fourth Olympic Games.

"This is so cool," Williams wrote.

Thirty-six hours later, the world No. 1 found another antidote to jet lag and Rio traffic as she stepped onto center court at the Olympic Tennis Center for her first match and dispatched Australian Daria Gavrilova 6-4, 6-2 on a cool, windy Sunday afternoon before a vocal crowd.

In Williams' first match since capturing Wimbledon last month and tying the Open Era record with 22 Grand Slam titles, it was not as easy a victory as some may have expected against her 46th-ranked opponent. The competitive first set took 48 minutes.

"It feels good, I'm happy to win my first match," said Williams, who committed 37 unforced errors to 28 by her opponent and converted 5-of-13 break point chances to 2-of-6 by Gavrilova. "No one wants to go out in the first round. It's always a little tricky. You at least want to win a match, so I feel really good about that. And it wasn't an easy match for me today. She has a lot of big wins and she plays really well, so I was very happy."

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Gavrilova, 22, who represented her native Russia until 2015, when she emigrated to Australia, has career victories against Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and twice Petra Kvitova.

"To be honest, I got really tired in the second set," Gavrilova said. "I played pretty late last night, and it really affected me. I got really flat, and you can't be flat against Serena because you have to run all the time."

Gavrilova admitted to being slightly offended by all the people offering their regrets at her unfortunate draw, and indeed she did not go down easily.

"You know you're playing the best in the world, but you're still trying to beat her …," she said. "Everyone is like, 'Oh, I'm so sorry,' [when they heard the draw], and I was really getting annoyed."

Williams said she was "happy to get through" on a day in which the wind whipped on the hardcourts. "The conditions definitely didn't make it easy," she said.

And as is often the case, the crowd rooted heartily for the underdog. But as the match wore on, the characteristic shrieks and fist pumps became more frequent on Williams' winners. With her coach, agent and sisters looking on from their courtside seats, this may as well have been a Grand Slam final. Williams' competitiveness in sealing the victory revealed the athlete and patriot she and sister Venus are.

Their four Olympic gold medals each are the most of any tennis player, and Venus, beset by a virus Saturday night causing her to lose her first-round match, could not help her sister advance beyond the first round of doubles. The Williams sisters were upset by Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strýcová on Sunday evening.

While many multimillionaire professionals chose to bypass the Games, nothing, Serena said, would have kept her away from these Olympics.

"I didn't consider not coming," she said. "I really wanted to be here. I was planning to be here since London, so it would've been a real pity if I made all these big plans and I couldn't make it. So I tried everything I could to come to Rio.

"The Olympic experience is always different. You're not the focus. There are so many different athletes. My eyes are glued to the TV watching the different disciplines going on, so it's a totally different experience."


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