STANFORD -- So much for any rust, nerve or health factors regarding Serena Williams' return to the tennis court Wednesday night at the Bank of the West Classic. For openers, she looked pretty smashing.

Playing her first singles match since her eerie exit from Wimbledon exactly one month ago, Williams played calmly and efficiently in beating back a fairly decent challenge from 22-year-old Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

Williams won 7-5, 6-2 in a 64-minute match that featured serious ball-whacking by both women. Both players cranked up 117-mph serves, and the rallies were short and stinging. But in the end, Williams' shot selection and savvy were too much for Pliskova, and to make it that much tougher, Serena's serve was working well, particularly when she needed it.

Serena Williams returns the ball against Karolina Pliskova in the second set for the Bank of the West tennis tournament at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium
Serena Williams returns the ball against Karolina Pliskova in the second set for the Bank of the West tennis tournament at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Williams won 7-5, 6-2. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Williams powered nine aces, several other serves her opponent couldn't handle and won 82 percent of her first-serve points. She wasn't broken in the match, and she had just one double fault. She said she made a few "silly mistakes," but for the most part, she looked pretty sharp and ready.

"I didn't feel any extra nerves," Williams said. "I just wanted to do what I've been working on, and that's it. That's all I thought about, all I felt. I think I played really well. I don't think I played bad. I think there's room for improvement, but I think I'm going in the right direction."


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The Bank of the West could have ill afforded to lose Williams to an early exit after second-seeded and world No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska was upset 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 by American Varvara Lepchenko earlier in the day. But after Williams survived a competitive first set from Pliskova, there was no real danger of that.

No one was quite sure what to expect from Williams after her Wimbledon episode in which she looked dazed and listless in a third-round loss to France's Alize Cornet, then retired from a doubles match with her sister Venus the next day after losing her equilibrium because of what she has maintained was a viral infection.

She's hoping her impressive return to the court will provide closure to her much-probed Wimbledon performance. If the first match didn't do it, winning the Bank of the West for a third time would undoubtedly go a long way toward that end.

"I've moved on," she said. "I'm just doing things I think I do best. Anybody has any questions, they're more than welcome to ask."

Williams has yet to win a Grand Slam title this year, so it's clear she's making a concerted push toward the U.S. Open, which starts later this month. Getting back on the hard courts after three months playing on clay and grass is providing a reset for the rest of the year.

"I think there's always a reset from the French/Wimbledon," she said. "I think every player kind of takes a deep breath and then gets ready for the last swing of tournaments."

In that regard, Pliskova gave Williams a nice jump-start. With both players serving hard and fast, neither could gain a break through the first 11 games. But Pliskova, perhaps feeling the tension of facing a tiebreaker with the No. 1 player in the world, fell apart in the 12th game. After Williams hit a cross-court winner on the first point, the world's 45th-ranked player double-faulted on the next and then hit a volley into the net, ultimately losing the game at love.

Williams jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second set, again breaking her opponent at love in the second game, and she never looked back.

In a pivotal afternoon match, the 28-year-old Lepchenko, unseeded and ranked 59th in the world, used a powerful forehand to upset Radwanska, a Bank of the West finalist last year. Lepchenko had never beaten Radwanska in five prior meetings.

Lepchenko, who was born in Uzbekistan but became a U.S. citizen in 2007, broke Radwanska in the fifth game of the decisive third set, but Radwanska immediately broke back. But leading 5-4, Lepchenko broke the standout from Poland once again to take the match.

  • The WTA announced that Sabine Lisicki hit the fastest recorded serve in the history of the women's tennis tour Tuesday, reaching 131 mph. Lisicki hit the serve in a first-round loss against Ana Ivanovic. The previous fastest WTA serve was 129 mph by Venus Williams at the 2007 U.S. Open.

    SCHEDULE, RESULTS

    Wednesday's top matches
    No. 1 Serena Williams d. Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-2
    Varvara Lepchenko d. No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3, 3-6, 6-4
    Thursday's top matches
    Coco Vandeweghe vs. No. 3 Angelique Kerber, 1 p.m.
    Venus Williams vs. No. 4 Victoria Azarenka, 7 p.m.
    Thursday's TV: 1-5 p.m.,
    7-10 p.m., Tennis Channel