Serena stutters past unheralded Kanepi

BEIJING - Serena Williams made a stuttering start to her bid to topple Dinara Safina from the world No 1 spot with an error-strewn 7-5 6-4 win over Estonian Kaia Kanepi in the first round of the China Open yesterday.

BEIJING - Serena Williams made a stuttering start to her bid to topple Dinara Safina from the world No 1 spot with an error-strewn 7-5 6-4 win over Estonian Kaia Kanepi in the first round of the China Open yesterday.

Safina, who must at least match Williams's progress over the next week in Beijing to retain the No 1 ranking, was equally unconvincing in her 6-4 6-4 victory over Italian Roberta Vinci earlier in the day.

Williams missed last week's Pan Pacific Open with knee and toe injuries and looked far from her best in her first singles match since her rant at a lineswoman at the US Open last month.

"I'm definitely not at 100percent but I'm just fighting and trying to do the best I can," Williams said. "It wasn't easy but I felt like I was hitting a clean ball. She's a really good player, she always plays tough."

The Australian Open and Wimbledon champ made nine unforced errors in the 83-minute encounter against the big-hitting Kanepi, who broke the second seed three times.

Williams, though, always looked to have the edge on the big points and reached the second round of the $6,6million (about R50million) event with a fifth break of serve when Kanepi went long, keeping alive the American's hopes of reclaiming the top ranking.

"I would love to be No 1," added 11-time Grand Slam winner Williams. "But I also want to pay the price to be No 1. It'll come eventually. And if not, I'll just keep trying."

Top seed Safina's victory over 59th-ranked Vinci was an improvement on her first-round loss to Taiwanese qualifier Chang Kai-chen at the Pan Pacific Open last week but was by no means commanding.

"I'm satisfied with the match but there is still room to improve my game," she said. "I'm not thinking about (the ranking)." - Reuters

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