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Struggling Serena survives

Manages to power her way into second round despite erratic play, reports Deepika Sharma.
Hindustan Times | By Deepika Sharma, Bangalore
UPDATED ON MAR 05, 2008 10:55 PM IST

Serena Williams wasn't battling Tzipora Oblizer. The eight-time Grand Slam champion was instead battling form and her oft-questioned fitness. But the American power hitter survived the Israeli scare, pulling off a 7-5, 6-0 win at the Tier II $6,00,000 Bangalore Open on Wednesday.

With certain sections of the crowd rooting for an upset, Serena didn't let her opponent settle in. But there is no denying that she was erratic, committing most of the faults off her forehand. Her poor first serves and slow court movement, especially in the first set, made for a different Serena in action. Though her deceptively quick backhands hitting the ball to the corners made up for the crucial points she lost, it was the Israeli's inability to take full advantage her opponent's shortcomings that cost her the match.

If Serena was rusty and completely out of touch, Obziler was even more disappointing. A total of five breaks — Serena broke thrice and Obziler twice — made the opening set look as dark as the evening.

But the world No. 10 made her experience count against the world No. 117. Just when it mattered the most, Serena used the full court, hitting some dominating strokes. Obziler allowed Serena to dictate and some of her impressive shots early on were suddenly lost.

Serena's desperation to hit the ball in the right areas slowly but steadily bore fruit. She hung in and managed to grab the set, and her desperation to win did enough to rattle and baffle Obziler completely in the second.

Though one still didn't see the best of Serena in the second, she did enough to make sure she got into the next round. She hit her shots with better confidence and approach. Six straight games, a shrilling roar and clenched fists marked Serena's celebration.

Later, Serena admitted she didn't feel fully fit. "I am happy to be here after what I have gone through in the past two to three weeks," said Serena who was suffering from a severe toothache. "I was really down and I am just glad to have a chance to be here in India," she added. "It is great to get tennis here."

When asked about playing well in the second set, Serena said: "I started off making a lot of errors. The balls were flying out and I wasn't playing well." On whether Oblizer was giving pace, Serena disagreed. "I don't think so. I think she played very in-consistently." She also spoke about the line calls that both players had an issue with. "I certainly had issues with the calls. It was a fight through," she said.

In other matches, Uzbek Akgul Amanmuradova fought back from a set down to oust Hungarian Agnes Szavay 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, Sybille Bammer of Austria crashed out, losing to Russian Anastasia Rodinova 7-6 (5), 6-2 and Australian fourth seed Patty Schnyder rallied to beat Aiko Nakamura of Japan 6-7 (1) 6-4, 6-2.

Serena’s 'magic bag'

Serena Williams never moves around without her metallic golden handbag. Not even on court. So, what is in it that Serena calls a

'magic bag'? Three bottles of Gatorade and a bottle of water A sunscreen lotion & cream A small pink journal Some Nike cards

A box of mouth fresheners Her favourite lip-gloss A few family photos

(She says nothing is useful while playing a match)

Akgul’s battle against the odds

Akgul Amanmuradova is half Turkmen and half Iranian. She is based in Tashkent and has a strong Indian connection. Such are her looks that one can easily mistake her for an Indian. But the 6' 3" Uzbek has had her most successful run in India.

But surprisingly, Amanmuradova doesn't consider playing in India the reason behind her ITF titles — she has won five of her seven titles here. "This is a very popular question," she says matter-of- factly. "In the beginning of my career I could not go anywhere else. I had to play a lot to improve my ranking. It also has a lot to do with the international calendar. I have been here so many times. Many players find many things difficult here, like the food. I just feel I am able to deal with the conditions better," she said.

Amanmuradova, who hit 16 blazing aces during her second round win against Hungarian Agnes Szavay, also shared some of her adventures on tour, which she says can be tiring.

"When I was coming here from Dubai my bag went for checking. They had a problem with my sneakers and they stopped me from carrying them. I had to actually borrow them from someone here," says Amanmuradova.

On her recent form, the world No. 83, said she was probably touching her best. "I am reaching there. It is not too far away. I had lost to Szavay in the final round of the Wimbledon qualifiers. I took revenge," said Amanmuradova, whose mother is a musician.

She also spoke about the women's game back home. "To be honest, it is very difficult for young girls to take up the sport there. Most of the families don't like the fact that girls go out and play. Issues like being a Muslim also lurk around," Amanmuradova said, who reached the Pattaya Open semis last month.

So what would Amanmuradova cherish more? An Olympic gold or a Grand Slam victory? "I'm confused. An Olympic champion is forever and a Grand Slam champion is for the country," she says vaguely. One only hopes the 23-year old has both in her kitty.

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