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Wozniacki opens with win at Family Circle

Thursday - 4/4/2013, 12:24am  ET

Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, returns to Silvia Soler-Espinosa, of Spain, during the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- An early exit at the Sony Open and a postponed humanitarian trip to Haiti left Caroline Wozniacki with a big hole in her schedule -- something she was glad to fill with a trip to the Family Circle Cup.

The 2011 Family Circle champion won her sixth straight match here with a dominating 6-1, 6-1 victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa on Wednesday.

Venus Williams, who won this tournament in 2004, began play with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory over 19-year-old Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.

The second-seeded Wozniacki didn't count on getting ousted from her last event in Key Biscayne, Fla., in the round of 32. Then, boyfriend Rory McIlroy delayed a mission visit this week that she planned to attend so he could tee it up at the Valero Texas Open and prep for the year's upcoming first major championship at the Masters next week.

She entered as a wild-card Saturday, two days before the Family Circle kicked off.

"I was not playing matches and thought I'd basically have four weeks off" until playing at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, later this month, she said. "So I just decided this would be a great week for me. We'll just see how it goes."

It went very well for Wozniacki on Billie Jean King Court.

She won seven straight games during one stretch, overpowering Soler-Espinosa with her 100 mph serves. She broke Soler-Espinosa twice to win the final five games of the opening set.

Wozniacki continued to use her big serves -- she took a 3-1 lead in the second set on a 111 mph ace -- to keep Soler-Espinosa on the defensive and wrapped up the match in 59 minutes.

Wozniacki had reached the finals of the Indian Wells tournament, but was knocked out of her last event, Sony Open in Key Biscayne, in the round of 32. She acknowledged it's generally hard to transition smoothly from the faster hardcourt surfaces to the clay.

Wozniacki, though, felt prepared and confident.

"I felt like I really served well and returned well today," she said. "I'm pleased with that."

Past champion Samantha Stosur, ranked ninth in the world, opened play with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Marina Erakovic. Jelena Jankovic moved into the round of with a three-set win over French qualifier Caroline Garcia.

Williams' younger sister, Serena, began play at the Family Circle on Tuesday with a straight set victory. Serena is the tournament's defending champion who's coming off a win last week at the Sony Open over Maria Sharapova.

Wozniacki's hopeful she can flash the form she had here two years ago -- she dropped only two sets in five matches in capturing the championship -- and keep her Family Circle winning streak going against all opponents.

"I'm pretty pleased about the tennis today and how things turned out," she said. "I thought I had some power in my serves and I thought I put in a lot of my first serves."

Others advancing were No. 6 seed Lucie Safarova, No. 10 seed Julia Goerges and American qualifier Mallory Burdette, who defeated 2009 Family Circle champ Sabine Lisicki.

Burdette's prize for moving on? A matchup with Serena Williams, seeking her 12th straight match win here after winning the Family Circle crown the two times she's played.

Venus Williams fought through a second-set lull to rally past Puig in their first-ever meeting. Williams withdrew from the Sony Open with a bad back and said it was difficult to feel 100 percent less than two weeks later.

"It's hard to be all the way prepared, but at that point, it's about being mentally tough," Venus Williams said. "It's good to start off with a win."

Wozniacki was off-kilter at first, winning her serve at deuce to start the match, then netting a backhand as Soler-Espinosa won the following game. But Wozniacki found her stride and took the next seven games, a stretch when Soler-Espinosa didn't win more than two points in any game. Soler-Espinosa, of Spain, pushed a forehand into the net on match point to end things.

No matter how things end at the Family Circle, Wozniacki is off to Augusta National next week to cheer on McIlroy at the Masters. She says it's generally more nerve-racking to watch McIlroy than when she's on the court playing because she has no control of the outcome on the golf course.

"But I generally think it's worse to watch (golf) on TV because you're just sitting there and have no clue" of McIlroy's emotions or mindset, she said. "At home, it's like, 'OK, just make the putt.'"


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