Serena Williams carried her relentless form into the New Year with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Alize Cornet on Tuesday at the Brisbane International, where Maria Sharapova withdrew and two other highly ranked players went out in the second round.
After the unexpected exits of No. 2 Maria Sharapova, who pulled out with an injured right collarbone, and 2011 champion Petra Kvitova on Tuesday afternoon, the third-ranked Williams needed only an hour to beat the No. 44-ranked Cornet — unleashing one of her fastest ever serves — in the night match.
The 15-time major winner has lost only one of her last 34 competitive singles matches in a run that includes titles at Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open.
She was hitting winners so fiercely that Cornet didn't bother chasing most of them, and she fired a serve at 124 mph (200 kilometers per hour) in the fourth game of the second set.
"I just really went for it. I've hit 200 before, but they never go in so I was really excited that it went in," Williams said. "I tried to be more aggressive."
It was faster than any serve she produced last year, and she has rarely served any faster anywhere.
Not being able to serve was the reason for Sharapova's decision to withdraw. She didn't want to risk aggravating a collarbone problem that flared up late last month and forced her out of an exhibition in South Korea. She only started hitting overheads and serves on Monday, and said it was wiser to head to Melbourne to prepare for the Australian Open, starting on Jan. 14.
"I still have quite a bit of time to prepare for Australia. I'm on the right track, been training really well, so I just don't want to jeopardize what I've gained in the offseason so far," the French Open champion said. "Just have to make a smart move here."
Kvitova, who won the Brisbane title five months before claiming her first Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon in 2011, didn't find any rhythm in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and will head to Sydney to get some more matches to prepare for the season's first major.
Combined with Daniela Hantuchova's 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 win over No. 5 Sara Errani and the first-round exits of No. 7 Sam Stosur and No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki, the season-opening event featuring eight of the top 10 ranked women had already lost five of its top eight seeds before the end of the second round.
"This tournament was a really tough draw, everybody's playing," Kvitova said of why so many of the highly ranked players have tumbled out. "After the offseason, it's hard to be on the court against some opponents."
Williams will next meet the winner of Wednesday's match between fellow American Sloane Stephens and Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson.
She said she had a touch of insomnia after arriving in Australia, and was awake listening to the New Year's Eve fireworks on Monday but not able to join the celebrations.
Now she's hoping for a night quarterfinal.
"I don't know what time zone I'm in. I don't know if I'm in Florida or if I'm in Mauritius or if I'm in Brazil. I just don't know anymore," she said, but "I'm good when I'm awake."
If she continues her dominating run right through the Australian Open, the 31-year-old Williams has a good chance of becoming the oldest player to hold the No. 1 ranking. Chris Evert holds that record — she was 30 years, 11 months when she last held the top ranking in 1985. Williams puts her resurgence since her first-round exit at the last French Open to a feeling of reinvigoration.
"I just feel alive," she said. "I feel really alive."
On the men's side, local qualifier John Millman, ranked No. 199, advanced to a second-round match with Olympic and U.S. Open champion Andy Murray by beating Japan's Tatsuma Ito 6-4, 6-1.
Seventh-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria downed Denis Kudla of the U.S. 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, while No. 8 Martin Klizan of Slovakia lost 6-1, 6-2 to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
Spain's Tommy Robredo advanced 6-4, 7-6 (4) over American Ryan Harrison and Alejandro Falla of Colombia set up a second-round match with No. 3-seeded Gilles Simon with a 6-1, 7-6 (8) win over Jesse Levine.