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January 16, 2013

Standing tall

MELBOURNE, Australia — Flat on her back, her sore right ankle raised and her hands covering her face, Serena Williams tried to block out thoughts that her bid for a third straight Grand Slam title might be ruined.

After a dominating run the last six months, Williams was a big favorite to win the Australian Open. Suddenly, though, there seemed a way for her to be gone in the first round.

“I almost panicked, and I thought, ‘I can’t do that,”’ she said. “I just have to really remain calm and think things through.”

The stats showed this was nothing more than a stroll — a 6-0, 6-0 wipeout in 54 minutes of No. 110-ranked Edina Gallovits-Hall at Melbourne Park on Tuesday. Williams conceded only six points in the second set.

But this match took significantly longer to complete given the medical timeouts. And while the score may have been painful to her opponent, there was plenty of pain to go around.

The first set was 4-0 after 19 minutes at Hisense Arena when her tumble near the baseline diverted attention on Day Two from center court, where a day session featuring Roger Federer, Andy Murray and women’s champion Victoria Azarenka was under way.

After some deep breaths, the 31-year-old Willlams pulled herself together, got to her hands and knees for a few minutes and gradually to her feet.

Her already heavily taped ankle was assessed and retaped.

She went back on court and won the next four points to get herself to another changeover, and more attention from the doctor. She went back and held another service game to clinch the set, giving her time for more treatment.

“A very similar thing happened to me last year, almost on the same side, the same shot,” Williams said, referring to a fall that forced her to pull out of the Brisbane International last year and contributed to her fourth-round exit at the Australian Open.

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