Serena Williams of the USA in action against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.
Serena Williams of the USA in action against Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. MADE NAGI

Williams wobbles but takes first-round win

SERENA Williams has survived a second-set wobble to start her bid for a 23rd grand slam singles title with a straight-sets success over rising Swiss star Belinda Bencic.

Williams, who will move past Steffi Graf for major singles titles if she wins her sixth Australian Open next week, struggled to close out the match, losing three consecutive games to the 19-year-old before regathering to win 6-4 6-3 in one hour, 19 minutes.

Beaten in last year's US Open semi-finals by Karolina Plisokova, Williams said she knew Bencic would be a tough opponent and was glad to get through to improve her first-round record at grand slams to 66 wins and one defeat.

"She's such a great player. She was just recently in the top 10 so she's been playing great,” the second seed said.

"It was one of the toughest first-round matches I've played so I knew I had to come out strong.”

Williams said she would continue to go for her shots when she faced up to former top-10 player Lucie Safarova on Thursday in a rematch of their 2015 French Open final.

"Right now I have nothing to lose. Every match, every point, I'm playing for fun,” she said.

"I get to travel the world and play in these great areas so it's self-motivating.”

Czech left-hander Safarova did it tougher in her first-round match, saving nine match points against Yanina Wickmayer before finally moving through 3-6 7-6 6-1.

The world No.61 looked gone at 0-40 on her serve at 5-6 in the second, but somehow saved those match points, and two more, to force the tiebreaker. Wickmayer had another three chances to claim the match after leading 5-1 in the tiebreak, but again could not seal the deal, allowing Safarova a chance to win the set, which she took, before taking the final set 6-1.

"I think she served well on certain points and on others I just didn't go for enough,” Wickmayer said of the match points.

"As much as I tried, I think I was just mentally done (after that). My chances were in the second, not in the third.”