Williams, choking back tears, needed to leave the court for a medical timeout at the end of her first set tiebreaker after twisting sharply for a swinging backhand volley on the final point and appearing to injure her stomach or groin.
She returned with her right thigh heavily strapped, and dominated the second set.
It took the attention, for a while, off her revealing lattice-style top with multicolored satin short skirt which barely concealed her self-described flesh-coloured “nude shorts.”
The seven-time Grand Slam winner had never retired from a singles match in a major, and wasn’t about to start.
“It was just a battle today,” said Williams, who screamed in agony after the initial injury she described as “sharp and acute.”
“I had to just calm myself down. In the middle of a match like that, you can get a little hysterical.”
The aim, she said, was to get off court, calm herself down “and come out and try to rip some winners.”
And although she was clearly hobbling, she was able to hit winners from the baseline, relying on her powerful ground strokes to keep rallies short.
“I guess if I got to the point where I just couldn’t move at all, I guess I would have had to retire,” she said. “I haven’t retired from a match in a long, long time. I just go to the bitter end. It was bitter today, but it just didn’t end.”
Williams was still in pain at the end of the match and asked for help with rackets and gear. Chair umpire Alison Lang even pitched in to help her with her bags.
There was no such drama when Caroline Wozniacki advanced with an emphatic 6-1, 6-0 win over American Vania King as her first major atop the rankings continued to gather momentum.
The 20-year-old Danish player was never troubled in the 58-minute match, breaking 88th-ranked King’s serve to finish it off and reach the third round for a 13th consecutive Grand Slam tournament. She has yet to win a major, but has held the No. 1 ranking since October and can retain it by reaching the semifinals here.
To get to the semis, she might have to beat seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, who continued her comeback from injury with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Elena Baltacha of Britain on centre court.
The pair could meet in the quarterfinals. Henin will have to get through a tough match against two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova just to get past the third round. The 23-seeded Kuznetsova beat Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4.
“I have a lot of good memories, almost all good memories, from Melbourne,” said Henin, the 2004 Australian champion and runner-up here in 2006 and last year, when she was returning from a career break from the tour.
Her comeback was stalled after Wimbledon—she couldn’t play because of an elbow injury—and is making another return of sorts at Melbourne Park.
Henin is one of two former Australian Open champions in the women’s draw. The other, 14th-seeded Maria Sharapova, was only a point from slipping behind 4-0 in the first set before she recovered to beat Virginie Razzano 7-6 (3), 6-3. Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian title, missed the 2009 tournament due to injury and was ousted in a first-round upset last year.
No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, the 2010 quarterfinalist who has lost to Serena Williams the past three years here, beat Andrea Hlavackova 6-4, 6-4. Serena Williams is injured and not defending her title in Australia.
On the men’s side, Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych needed four match points, struggling to finish it off with his serve in the last game, to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
No. 8 Andy Roddick had no such trouble, firing his 17th ace to finish off a 7-6 (7), 6-2, 6-3 second-round win over Igor Kunitsyn of Russia.
The former No. 1-ranked Roddick is into the third round at Melbourne Park for the ninth straight time.
He said he was finding his range.
“I think when you’re confident, the court just makes sense; decisions come easier to you,” he said. “A lot of it comes naturally. There’s not a whole lot of thought process. You’re not forcing a lot. The ball kind of, I guess, reacts the way you want it to.
“So I feel comfortable out there right now.”
Roddick’s friend and U.S. Davis Cup teammate Mardy Fish made a second-round exit, the No. 16 seed losing 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to Tommy Robredo.
No. 9 Fernando Verdasco rallied from two sets down to beat Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0), 6-0, conceding just one point on his serve in the last set. Verdasco has a history of five-set matches here—his 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal two years ago was the longest match ever at the Australian Open.
No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic and No. 28 Richard Gasquet also advanced, while Japan’s Kei Nishikori beat Germany’s Florian Mayer 6-4, 6-3, 0-6, 6-3. Other seeded men eliminated were No. 25 Albert Montanes and No. 26 Juan Monaco.