SHE went down, lay on her back with her hands covering her face and, for a seismic moment, the women's event might have been truly open. But Serena Williams still won 6-0, 6-0 and, despite the pain, the swelling and the treatment her rolled ankle would require, she insisted she would be out on the court on Thursday.
''Oh, I'll be out there,'' Williams said. ''I mean unless something fatal happens to me, there's no way I'm not going to be competing. I'm alive. My heart's beating. I'll be fine.''
Serena and Azarenka make round two
Serena Williams says her injury helped her relax, after the US Open champion cruised into the second round of the Australian Open.
She will be there, but will she be impeded? Serena's ankle, perhaps, has supplanted Samantha Stosur's mind as the most queried item of anatomy of the women's event.
The ankle was certainly a more formidable opponent than Edina Gallovits-Hall, who lasted less than an hour, and on what Williams has managed at this event and elsewhere and considering the gap between her and her alleged peers, it could be the only serious obstacle to her sixth Australian Open title.
Williams acknowledged her troublesome ankle was sore - ''it was definitely a lot of pain'' - that there was swelling, and that the extent of the damage would become apparent later. Ankles are ailments that can be carried - especially with a little medicinal help.
''I'm going to play it by ear,'' she said, adding she would be ''on the couch'', with ice. ''It's one of the things I ice the most.''
Williams received immediate treatment from the tournament doctor, former Geelong Football Club medico Tim Wood, on the court. This involved unravelling the existing ankle bandage, examining it and then mummifying the ankle again.
''If I didn't have tape, I wouldn't be playing,'' said Williams, whose ankles have given her grief, most notably in Brisbane a year ago, when she went down in a near clone of this incident and was forced to withdraw.
''It reminded me a lot of Brisbane,'' she said. ''I thought, 'Oh, not again.' But you know, I've had such a good year that I don't think it's anything negative. I just think that I was definitely a little bit in shock and I was I thinking, 'I hope it's not serious', because it was really serious last year.''
Williams led 4-0 and was chasing and stretching her racquet at a forehand near the baseline on Rod Laver Arena when the ankle tipped her over. She landed with some force (the court was unharmed). At this painful moment, when the game's most destructive - and indestructible - female landed on the blue plexi-cushion, she was ''really close to panicking because a very similar thing happened to me last year, almost on the same side, the same shot. So I almost panicked, and I thought, 'I can't do that. I have to remain calm and think things through'.''
Serena's injury was officially described only as ''right ankle''. While injury can stop even the greatest players, Williams noted - almost cautioning doubters - that she had withstood mere injury before and prevailed. ''I've played this tournament with so many injuries and was able to come off pretty on top. For me, it's just another page and a great story to tell the grandkids one day.''
She had played with sore knees here and won the tournament once, for instance, and agreed that it might be best not to know the extent of the damage, ''because I would rather not know. I know one year I won this tournament and had two bone bruises in both knees. I had no idea. I just knew I was in pain. I think sometimes what you don't know won't hurt you.''
Serena won 58 matches and lost only four in 2012. She took Wimbledon, the US Open and the Olympic gold medal and defeated the counterfeit No.1, Victoria Azarenka, four times. Yet, due to the arcane workings of the computer rankings, she enters this tournament as the third seed, behind Azarenka and Maria Sharapova. The field lost its first high-ish seed when Sara Errani of Italy (7) succumbed to Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.
Serena's next opponent is Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who spent 3½ hours on court - some 140 minutes more than Serena - in overcoming Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia) 14-12 in the third set.
Muguruza will not beat Serena. In the early rounds, only the ankle stands in her way.