Serena Williams, part-owner of the Dolphins, paid homage to the team on Thursday with an aqua-and-orange dress for her opening match at the Sony Open. And like the Dolphins, she took a while to get going before winning 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 over tougher-than-expected opponent Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan.
Perhaps Shvedova’s dark sunglasses blocked the glare of Williams’ superstardom because the world’s 64th-ranked player did not look intimidated by the world No. 1. Nor did she seem overwhelmed by the occasion or the pro-Williams crowd at Stadium Court.
Williams trailed 5-3 in the first set and appeared in serious trouble as Shvedova served for the set at 5-4. But then, as she has done so many times before, Williams flipped a switch, turned up the volume on her grunt and shriek and began playing like a woman possessed.
A net cord went Williams’ way, she then fired a cross-court winner to tie it up at 5-5 and wound up forcing a tiebreaker. But the battle was far from over. The six-time Sony champion had to fight again after falling behind 6-3 in the tiebreaker. She caught a break when Shvedova hit a forehand into the net and then double-faulted, giving Williams the slightest opening, which is all she needed.
It was right around that time that a fan in the upper deck caused a commotion and was removed by two police officers. The man chanted “Kaz-akh-stan“ and clapped three times during a few points. The crowd booed when he was ejected. Sony Open spokesman Sam Henderson said the tournament is investigating the incident.
Williams was clearly unfazed. She served aces to win the next two points. Williams took control of the second set early, and when her backhand winner sealed the match, she squealed and pumped her fists.
“She was just playing really, really well and she was up a break, and I started just really trying to fight to make the shots,” Williams said. “And then, when she was serving for the first set, I really just tried to be more Serena-like. She was doing a little bit of everything. She was hitting hard. She was hitting soft. I was making a little more errors than I should’ve made and that kind of threw me for a loop, as well.”
Williams’ father Richard was very impressed with Shvedova, who ranked as high as No. 25 in 2012.
“Serena may not have another match that tough the rest of the tournament,” he said. “That other girl could beat anyone if she plays a whole match the way she played that first set. I also think Serena put too much pressure on herself because she hadn’t played in a long time, so she was trying to hit as hard as she could to win the match instead of using angles and her shots.
The two former No. 1s who played Thursday — Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic — had far less drama in their matches. Sharapova advanced with a routine 6-3, 6-4 win over Kurumi Nara of Japan. Ivanovic beat American Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-1.
On the men’s side, 33-year-old Lleyton Hewitt rallied to beat Robin Haase 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. It was his 600th win, making him the third active player to reach the milestone, joining Roger Federer (942 wins) and Rafael Nadal (675).
“Not many people get the opportunity to get close to that, so it means I have been around for an awfully long time,” Hewitt said. “I’m getting old. A few years ago when I had the last couple of surgeries, I probably would have doubted I’d get to this stage. I’m grateful I’m out there and able to compete with the best guys.”
Fellow Australian Bernard Tomic set a dubious record, losing 6-0, 6-1 to Jarkko Nieminen in the shortest-ever ATP match. The forgettable match lasted 28 minutes 20 seconds.
The previous record was Greg Rusedski’s 29-minute 6-0, 6-0 win over Germany’s Carsten Arriens at the Sydney International in 1996.
It was a good day for Americans Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison and Donald Young, all of whom advanced. Harrison trailed crowd favorite, Argentine Federico Delbonis 3-1 in the second set. He slammed down his racket and won the next five games.
“Obviously, it’s tough down here in Miami because there’s a lot of South American support, so I didn’t feel like I had full home-court advantage,” Harrison said. “I come from an American football family, so for me, throwing the racket can be a release for me, as long as I don’t go crazy and completely embarrass myself. It’s like a reset button. In juniors, my mom and girlfriend, everybody associated with me would just leave. I’ve had to learn to manage how often I do it and the magnitude.”
Harrison’s path in the draw got easier when his next opponent, Juan Martin del Potro, withdrew with a wrist injury.
Fans with Friday stadium court tickets hit the jackpot. The schedule features the winners of 34 Grand Slam titles — Federer, Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Li Na.
This story was originally published March 21, 2014 12:01 AM.