Tennis

Serena Williams wins, Sloane Stephens falls at Miami Open

Serena Williams reacts during a victory over Christina McHale at the Miami Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center on Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Serena Williams reacts during a victory over Christina McHale at the Miami Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center on Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Key Biscayne, Florida. El Nuevo Herald

Christina McHale admitted this week she’d “be nervous’’ to play her childhood idol — world No. 1 Serena Williams — on Thursday in the second round of the Miami Open.

But it was Williams who no doubt got a few jitters late in the second set and early in the third when fellow American McHale, 23, won five consecutive games to take the second set and go up 1-0 in the deciding one.

That’s when Williams, 34, ignited the firepower, thrilled the spirited crowd and showed the young woman from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., why she was “nervous’’ in the first place, with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 victory to start the week off right.

The second full day of matches at the Miami Open had one megastar on the court, one off it and another local favorite — 22nd-ranked Sloane Stephens of Coral Springs — go down to a Brit who earned entry to the tournament through a wild card.

Joining Williams in the spotlight on Thursday was world No. 3 Roger Federer, who held a news conference for the media but will make his first Miami Open appearance in two years in Friday’s third match of the day on Stadium Court against 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

“This tournament clearly is a big tournament in the calendar,” Federer said, when asked how important it was to keep the tournament in Miami. “Used to be best of five sets, considered the fifth slam. I always enjoyed coming here. I hope that this tournament stays successful for years to come.

“It has a nice vibe, you know … I think it’s a beautiful play tennis in.”

Fans watch tennis, eat and play, and players talk about competing in the Miami Open on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at Key Biscayne, Florida. Video by Mario Mateo.

It wasn’t so nice for Stephens, 23, who had an altogether bad day against Heather Watson, who won the last 11 games for a 6-3, 6-0 victory. At one point, the Brit won 16 consecutive points in the second set.

“She played a good match,’’ Stephens said. “All around I didn’t play very solid. I was all over the court. My shot selection was messy and I just couldn’t find it today. It’s disappointing, but it’s sports.

“It’s a long year ahead. I’m just going to take this, learn from it and hopefully take it into my next tournament and play a little better.’’

Federer just hopes he can play. The 2005-06 Miami Open champion underwent arthroscopic surgery Feb. 3 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

He looked refreshed after sitting out of tennis since he lost to top-ranked Novak Djokovic — who plays Kyle Edmund of Great Britain at 8 p.m. Friday — in the Australian Open semifinal in late January. The winner of 17 Grand Slams, the Swiss superstar skipped last year’s Miami Open to concentrate on the then-upcoming clay season.

Federer said he injured the knee the day after his loss in the Australian Open while he went “to run a bath” for his two daughters. “I made a very simple movement, turned back, heard a click in my knee. Went to the zoo. My leg was swollen.”

On crutches for about 12 days, Federer said he “couldn’t be more happy how rehab has gone. … It’s pretty incredible to see the progress I’ve been able to make in a short period of time.”

Nonetheless, he warned that the health of his knee is paramount now.

“If I feel something [Friday],” Federer said, “I won’t play. It’s very simple. Expectations are really low, which is nice for a change.”

Expectations are anything but low for Williams, whose older sister, No. 10 seed Venus, plays qualifier Elena Vesnina of Russia not before 5 p.m. Friday on Stadium Court.

After praising McHale as “a really unbelievably sweet girl” and someone who should “be really proud of herself,” Williams said, “I really just don’t want to be here. So, if we can wrap this up that would be great. I feel like I’ve been doing press every day. So, it’s enough.”

Susan Miller Degnan: 305-376-3366, @smillerdegnan

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