What wedding? First things first for Serena Williams

January 17, 2017, 1:21 AM

— -- MELBOURNE, Australia -- It wasn't until after another routine opening-round beatdown that Serena Williams offered a startling glimpse into the ruthlessly compartmentalized mindset that accompanies her to the Grand Slams.

She was engaged recently to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, but said she wasn't going to fully process the life-changing, milestone event -- until February.

"I guess it feels good," Williams said in her postmatch press conference. "I really haven't thought about it too much, because I wasn't even really going to think about it until after the tournament.

"I just kept saying that February I'll start looking at the bigger picture of my life."

For now, the smaller picture is winning a seventh title at the Australian Open.

The evidence, the early returns of the nascent 2017 season, suggested Serena's first-round match would be taxing.

Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic was a top-10 player a year ago, but injuries contrived to leave her unseeded here at the Australian Open. They had split their previous two meetings and, considering Serena's advanced age (35), there was some plausibility in those questions echoing around the grounds at Melbourne Park.

With temperatures creeping into the mid-90s Tuesday, Williams burned even hotter, comfortably ruining Bencic 6-4, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena.

Shame on all the cynics, the skeptics, the haters -- and you know who you are -- who doubted Serena's motivation. By now, after all these years, we shouldn't be terribly surprised.

There were questions about her extended offseason as well as her work ethic and preparedness after going out early in Auckland, New Zealand, and committing a zany 88 unforced errors.

We can report (this just in) that Williams is now a tidy 65-1 in first-round matches at Grand Slams. And while there are wildly differing qualities of victory, mark this one in the category of surpassingly solid.

Serena repeatedly bludgeoned Bencic's not-good-enough serve, taking some first offerings from a position a foot inside the baseline. The second serve?

Don't ask.

Williams made a handful of sublime shots, including a running, sliced backhand winner late in the first set that had no business landing in the court.

"I didn't come here to lose in the first round, or the second round, or at all," Williams said in her pretournament news conference. "If I can play the way I've been practicing, it will be fine."

Sure enough, that's just what happened. We should have known.

Serena, a six-time Aussie Open champion, has developed a remarkable reputation here. Since 1999, she has never lost before the third round.

Losing to Angelique Kerber here in last year's final set in motion her season-long struggle to maintain the No. 1 ranking. If she can get to the final here, she'll have a chance to reclaim it. Kerber, for the record, looked a little sketchy Monday, dropping a set on her way to the second round.

Serena's second-round match Thursday, naturally, seems fraught with all kinds of peril. She'll play 2015 French Open finalist Lucie Safarova, also a one-time Wimbledon semifinalist and Australian Open quarterfinalist.

Safarova, for what it's worth, should have a healthy supply of belief after saving a staggering nine match points in her first-round victory over Yanina Wickmayer.

Yes, the sky is falling all over again. How can Serena possibly rise to yet another potentially daunting occasion?

Clearly, she lives for this kind of shrill hysteria.

"Right now," she said, "I'm just so focused that this is kind of all I can think about."