STANFORD, Calif. -- Serena Williams made a triumphant and emphatic return on Wednesday night, beating Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-2 in the second round of the Bank of the West Classic. In her first match since losing in the third round of Wimbledon and retiring early from doubles, Williams looked sharp against the 22-year-old Czech, putting to rest -- for now -- any concerns about her Wimbledon health scare.
Three thoughts on Serena's win:
The focus and intensity were there: Williams came into this match having lost in the second round of the French Open and the third round of Wimbledon. She looked nervous and tense at both tournaments, which manifested itself in either emotionally flat play or forced intensity far too early in the match. But the composed Williams returned on Wednesday. She fell behind in the first game, giving up two break points at 15-40, but there was no panic or concern. She saved both points easily, firing a 113 mph ace out wide to hold, and the escape seemed to settle her. Pliskova didn't get another sniff on her serve until late in the second set.
In particular, Williams' footwork was solid. The sneakers were squeaking with all the tiny adjustments she needed to make and her court coverage was precisely what we expect to see when she's playing her best. Even without coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who is not at the tournament, looking on, Williams was technically sound.
"I played really well," Williams said. "I'm doing well. I'm on the right path and I'm working on some new things and I'm excited."
Williams' biggest weapon -- her serve -- was clicking: Pliskova leads the tour in aces this season and she's been playing well, up to a career-high No. 45 after back-to-back quarterfinals in Bad Gastein, Austria, and Istanbul this month. The key to winning on the notoriously fast court in Stanford against a big server is to serve well, and Williams did just that. She hit nine aces and lost just six points behind her first serve, which she hit in at 55 percent.
"I was playing a player I knew was going to be very difficult to break so mentally you have to really, really, really try to hold on to your serve even more so," Williams said. "So that was really important to me just to make sure I was super focused on my serve."
With Pliskova taking care of business on her own service games, the two traded 11 holds before a poor service game at 5-6 from Pliskova gave Williams three break points. She needed only one to win the first set. She then raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set and rolled from there, winning in one hour and four minutes.
Williams has put Wimbledon behind her: The questions and concern surrounding her Wimbledon retirement will probably continue to come and Williams says she welcomes them. But we now enter the part of the season that sees the 17-time major champion back on the surface she loves. Williams won this hard-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2011 and '12.It was just one match, but Wednesday's vintage performance lends credence to Serena's insistence that she's moved on.
"It's always a reset after the French Open and Wimbledon," she said. "Every player almost takes a deep breath and gets ready for the last swing of the big tournaments."
Williams will play either No. 11 Ana Ivanovic or Canadian qualifier Carol Zhao in the quarterfinals on Friday night.