Serena Williams made a strong start to her 2020 season with a win over Camila Giorgi and now faces Christina McHale, a deceptively tough opponent who has pushed Williams hard before, for a place in the ASB Classic Auckland quarterfinals.
Serena Williams vs McHale is live from Auckland on Thursday 9 January at 1.30pm local/12.30am GMT
Williams only succeeded in winning back-to-back matches at a WTA Tour event once throughout the entire 2019 season, which saw the American playing an extremely stripped-down schedule due to injury and failing to get back-to-back wins at Indian Wells, Miami or Rome, although she did reach the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
It would be a great start to the season for Williams if she can string together WTA Tour wins in the very first week of 2020, and the American did look quite self-assured in a 6-3, 6-2 win over Camila Giorgi on Tuesday. Currently ranked world no. 99 after struggling badly with injury herself in 2019, Giorgi qualified for the main draw and was tapped to face Williams after Svetlana Kuznetsova was forced to withdraw, but didn’t have too many answers for strong serving from the American. Williams served eight aces – seven of them coming in the second set as she grew in confidence – and benefited from four double faults from Giorgi, winning 31 of 40 first-serve points and 9 of 14 second-serve points and saving all three break points she faced.
‘I thought it was solid, technically my second match of the year. Spent a long time off from tournament play, match play, so solid is pretty good. It’s a great start to build on.’
She went on:
‘I definitely think the doubles helped me a lot, especially with my serve. I served pretty decent, considering the conditions. So it’s really been helpful.’
Williams is already through to the quarterfinals in doubles with the soon-to-retire Caroline Wozniacki, the two of them accounting for top seeds Johanna Larsson and Caroline Dolehide 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday.
Williams is, of course, a magnificent doubles player and was on strong form in that match.It bodes well for Williams’s chances in this second-round clash that she has been playing doubles and building up her match-fitness, because Christina McHale could be a tough test for her.
Not only has McHale pushed Williams hard in the past, but she plays a very different style from the error-prone, hard-hitting, staccato style Giorgi adheres to, and Williams will have to play a lot of balls, not her preferred way of going about a match.
Ranked as high as world no. 24 back in 2012, McHale won the Japan Women’s Open in 2016 but has not been able to make it back to a WTA Tour final since and dropped out of the top 100 after a poor season in 2018, starting 2019 down at world no. 151. McHale steadily rebuilt throughout the year, winning an ITF $80k title in Trnava in May and reaching the third round of Indian Wells and the second rounds of Wuhan and Beijing – all after coming through qualifying – to end the year back up at world no. 81. Making her fifth appearance at the ASB Classic, McHale defeated American qualifier Ann Li 7-5, 6-2 to set up the second-round clash with Williams.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two Americans, with all of the previous three taking place in 2016 – and all of them proving fairly tough tussles for Williams. The 23-time major champion won all three, but McHale took sets from her in Miami and at Wimbledon, and one of the sets in the remaining match went to a tie-break.
That said, McHale has an overall 6-32 record against top-10 players and is on a nine-match losing streak against them, a streak which dates to back before she played Williams three times in 2016. I would still expect at least one of the sets to be close as McHale soaks up Williams’s power and frustrates her compatriot into errors, but Williams should be able to get this done in straight sets and book her place in the ASB Classic quarterfinals.