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Serena Williams into second round at Brisbane event

BRISBANE, Australia December 31 – A pain-free Serena Williams sent an ominous warning to her rivals as she crushed fellow American Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 6-1 in the first round of the Brisbane International on Sunday.

Third seed Williams, 31, pulled out of an exhibition tournament in Thailand last week amid concerns she had not fully recovered from a recent foot surgery.

But she looked in great touch against Lepchenko, who was never able to trouble Williams after squandering five break points in the opening game.

The 15-time grand slam winner quickly found her groove as she romped away to win in 59 minutes.

“My foot didn’t hurt today,” a relieved Williams said. “I was a little nervous, but I was completely fine.

“I was excited to get an early start so just in case I did have any pain I could have tomorrow off, but everything was fine.”

Williams entered the tournament as firm favourite after a stellar second half of 2012, during which she won seven titles, including Wimbledon, the US Open, the WTA Championship and the Olympics.

“I love winning, and I feel like as long as I’m able to win some matches and do well, I’m really motivated to keep going,” she said.

“I just love being out there. I think going through what I went through a year and a half ago (when she suffered from severe foot injuries) really just made me realise that I get to do this and have fun.”

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Former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova got her campaign off to an impressive start when she downed Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets.

Kvitova, the sixth seed, cruised through the first set and opened a 5-3 lead in the second, but was forced to hold off a Suarez Navarro fight back to win 6-3, 6-4 in 90 minutes.

The tall left hander had a stellar 2011 when she broke through to win Wimbledon along with five other WTA titles on her way to a career-high ranking of number two, having started the year at 34.

She lost some ground in 2012, slipping back to number eight in the world, but said she wasn’t concerned that she hadn’t made it to number one despite being so close.

“I know I was pretty close to being number one last year, it was only a few points but that’s still a big step,” she said. “I’m not sad I wasn’t number one, that’s tennis.

“(But) this year I am concentrating more on the grand slams than getting to number one.”

She now plays Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who downed Czech Lucie Hradecka 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Poland’s Urszula Radwanska defeated Tamira Paszek of Austria 2-6, 6-0, 6-2, while Australian wildcard Jarmila Gajdosova upset Italy’s world number 16 Roberta Vinci 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 to set up a clash with second seed Maria Sharapova.

Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova progressed after seeing off Lourdes Dominguez Lino 7-5, 6-2.

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Hometown favourite Samantha Stosur plays her first match on Monday night against Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson, with the top two seeds Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova not playing until Tuesday.

Stosur, who has never made it past the second round in Brisbane, has only had 10 days training leading into the start of the season after having spurs removed from her left ankle last month.

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