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Serena tops Townsend in Flushing Meadows opener

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serena Williams started her quest to join Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the career grand slam list with a 6-3 6-1 victory over 18-year-old fellow American Taylor Townsend at the U.S. Open on Tuesday.

Williams, seeking her third successive U.S. Open title and 18th grand slam singles crown of her career, was simply too experienced for the erratic-yet-gifted Townsend, the 2012 Australian Open junior singles and doubles champion.

"Taylor is incredibly talented, she's just so good," Williams said of the big-serving left-hander in a courtside interview, while praising the emerging crop of U.S. women in professional tennis. "We have such an amazing future."

Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22) and Helen Wills Moody (19) lead the list of all-time grand slam singles titles in women's tennis.

Townsend wore a big smile during the 55-minute match despite receiving a lesson from the 32-year-old Williams, who feels a kinship with the teen from Chicago with the great touch and instinct for serve-and-volley.

"It was just a lot of different emotions and feelings that were coming," said Townsend about the experience on Arthur Ashe Stadium court. "It was just a first for a lot.

"I was playing against one of my tennis idols, someone I've been watching for years and years. Playing in my home, the last slam of the year in front of an American crowd."

Townsend began strongly but after a service break in the third game Williams took over.

"I thought it was an interesting match," said world number one Williams. "I thought she played really well. She started out super strong. She did a good job.

"I think Taylor is a really great player. I believe she does everything well. She's one of the few players that can come to the net and volley (and) she has unbelievable hand speed with her racquet."

Townsend said she looks up to Williams and has learned a lot from her.

"She's an African-American woman from Compton, California, who has won 17 grand slam titles. Like, who would have thought?

"She's paved the way for me and not only African-American girls but girls in general, people in general.

"Just has changed the game of tennis. I think I've just learned from her story that anything is possible."

Williams, who improved her U.S. Open career record to 73-9, advanced to meet 81st-ranked Vania King after the American battled to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory over former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy.

(Editing by John O'Brien/Greg Stutchbury)

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