Serena breezes into second round as ‘impossible’ high winds raise tempers on Rio centre court
Defending champion Serena Williams defied high winds to breeze into the Olympic tennis second round Sunday as organisers were blasted for allowing play in conditions described as “ugly”.
The 34-year-old world number one, who can take her gold medal count to six if she repeats as singles and doubles champion, defeated Australia’s Daria Gavrilova 6-4, 6-2.
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Williams, sporting a patriotic Stars and Stripes hairband on centre court, will face either Sweden’s Johanna Larsson or Alize Cornet of France.
Winds of up to 25km/h caused havoc with the schedule – and the players’ tempers.
Matches on outside courts were delayed by 90 minutes as gusts buffeted the Barra complex, destroying hoardings and making play on exposed arenas impossible.
“It was really intense. I think my last Olympic final four years ago was really windy too,” said Williams.
“Today they couldn’t start the matches on the outside courts. I was a little nervous about that so I was happy to get through.”
Williams also confirmed that she and sister Venus will play doubles later in the day.
The 36-year-old Venus was knocked out of the singles on Saturday with her US team claiming she was suffering from a virus.
Brown, playing with his flowing dreadlocks tucked inside a white rasta beanie hat, retired in the second set of his clash with home hope Thomaz Bellucci after turning his left ankle in a nasty-looking fall.
A furious Bellucci – a friend of Brown’s – later lashed out at organisers for allowing the match to go ahead.
World number 86 Brown, who dumped Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon in 2015, took an injury time-out to have his ankle strapped but quit in tears moments later.
Brown had won the first set 6-4 but was down 4-5 in the second when he called it quits.
He immediately headed for a scan at a nearby hospital.
“It was almost impossible,” said 28-year-old Bellucci. “I don’t know how they allowed us to play like this. I have never played in these conditions.
“The wind was so fast and the match became ugly. You just couldn’t take any risks.”
Bellucci, backed by a raucous home crowd, goes on to face either Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas or Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia for a spot in the third round.
Later Sunday, defending men’s champion Andy Murray, top seed Novak Djokovic and 2008 champion Nadal get their campaigns underway.
Wimbledon champion Murray takes on Serbia’s Viktor Troicki while Nadal, playing for the first time in more than two months after suffering a wrist injury, tackles Federico Delbonis of Argentina.
World number one Djokovic faces Argentine giant Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion.
Del Potro endured a nightmare build-up to the centre court showdown when he was stranded in a broken down elevator at the athletes village for 40 minutes on Sunday morning.