Serena Williams returns a shot during her first-round victory over Bojana… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)
Reporting from New York — It was as if the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd didn't know how to react to Serena Williams and vice versa.
When Williams walked into the world's biggest tennis stadium at 10:31 p.m. in New York, the applause was subdued and Williams was expressionless.
The last time she had played singles on this court, in a 2009 women's semifinal, the night had ended badly. Williams lost to Kim Clijsters and the final point was after a foot fault call went against Williams. She launched into an obscenity-filled tirade against the lineswoman who'd seen Williams' toes cross the line.
Williams did not play here last year because of a foot injury that contributed to keeping her away from tennis for nearly a year. But if the 29-year-old didn't seem outwardly enthusiastic about her late-night arrival, her tennis spoke one word: dominant.
She beat 19-year-old Serbian Bojana Jovanovski, who is ranked 54th in the world, 6-1, 6-1, in 56 minutes.
"I'm glad that one's over," Williams said. "It took a long time."
That sentence seemed to cover both being the last women's first-round singles match played and the time it has taken for Williams to get back here.
"It feels like I'm in my third round already," Williams said. "But it's OK. At least I got one and made it through."
Williams lost the first point on a forehand error but within 10 minutes she was ahead 3-0. There were moments when Williams squealed with disappointment after rare mistakes and one yelped an audible "Come on," when she blasted a winner to take a 5-1 first-set lead, but there were few smiles.
A hint that Williams might not have enjoyed waiting so long to debut at the Open came when she gave a pre-match interview to ESPN's Pam Shriver. "You know," she said. "It would be nice to get on."
Williams had, perhaps, been twiddling her well-manicured nails, as defending men's champion Rafael Nadal struggled through a non-starring performance in his 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-5 win over 98th-ranked Andrey Golubev of Russia. Golubev had a 17-match losing streak earlier this year but he made Nadal look a bit cranky by pounding winners from both sides.
Nadal said his emotions were shakier than his strokes.
"I was, for sure, nervous," Nadal said. "He didn't help because he played very fast all the time. It was difficult for me to find the rhythm. But it's a positive start, winning in straight sets."
It was a much more routine day for the two top-seeded players, Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki.
The 24-year-old Djokovic moved to 58-2 this year and spent only 44 minutes on court when his first-round opponent, Conor Niland, quit after trailing 6-0, 5-1. Niland had food poisoning and Djokovic's precision hitting didn't make Niland's upset stomach less jumpy.
Wozniacki, who has won six tournaments this year, defeated Spain's Nuria Llagostera Vives, 6-3, 6-1.
The biggest upset came when Li Na, who had become the first Chinese woman to reach a major tournament final (the 2011 Australian Open) and then the first to win a major (the 2011 French Open) lost to 53rd-ranked Simona Halep of Romania, 6-2, 7-5.
Li, seeded sixth, had been rewarded for her breakthroughs by signing $42 million worth of endorsements this summer but her play has been a letdown. She lost in the second round at Wimbledon, where she had been seeded third, and has won back-to-back matches once since triumphing at the French Open.
The 29-year-old Li even used an expletive to describe her play this summer. "It's a terrible feeling," she said of losing in the first round in New York.
That's a feeling Williams has never had. She's 45-0 now in the first rounds of major championships.