By Craig Gabriel

NEW YORK: Under the lights of the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams got her title defence for the US Open underway and in exactly one hour she had secured her place in the second round. Serena defeated Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open winner, 6-0, 6-1.

Serena won the first ten games of the match and the first set was over in 23 minutes; it seemed like she was in a bit of a hurry, just as well she was because she managed to beat the drizzle that started just as they finished.

Asked what her thoughts are about Serena, Schiavone said: “What I think of Serena as a player? I think is not because she beat me now 6‑Love, 6‑1. I always say I think she’s the best athletes ever had in the world. We are speaking about some of the best, like Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Navratilova. We are speaking about something that is really unique. You know that.  I don’t have to say that.”

Serena started the Open with a 60-4 win-loss record for the year and has won eight titles, including her 16th career Grand Slam crown at the French Open, so far equaling her career best tally from 2002.

“I was just out there trying to be focused,” said Serena. “When you see you have to go against a former Grand Slam champion, meaning just a year and a half ago, two years ago ‑ she was in the finals of the French, then she won the French ‑ it’s not very easy to see your name on the draw like that, so you have to be very serious.

“She’s a great competitor. I think she played really well. I think the scoreline had nothing to do with the match.  I mean, I just was able to win some key points.            But I tell you, it wasn’t very easy out there.  We were both grunting and running and fighting.”

Serena took the opportunity to praise good friend James Blake who announced that he would be retiring after the US Open.

“He is just pure heart.  I mean, the guy has been really just a great person with a great heart.  He’s been through so much,” said Serena. “Being even able to be a professional player with his back, and then doing so well.  We won together at Hopman Cup.  He was such a great partner and a great friend. It’s just sad to see. Sad to see another good friend of mine that I’m not going to see on a daily basis.”

In the second round she will play Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.