Australian Open 2015: Valiant Venus Williams into first Major QF in 4 years
Venus Williams is through to her first Grand Slam quarter-final in four years after beating Agnieszka Radwanska in three sets
It was always going to be a fascinating match between the slight and crafty No6 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and the powerful, wily No18 seed Venus Williams.
Separated by 5ins in height and almost a decade in age, they were separated by rather less as they embarked on their 10th meeting. Williams had five wins, Radwanska four, but that did not tell the whole story.
Radwanska won their first match, as a 17-year-old, in 2006, a year full of injury troubles for Williams, but had also beaten her in their last three meetings, most recently in the Montreal final last year.
But in this latest meeting, the two promised to go the distance for only the second time in their history.
Radwanska, playing her first Major since taking on the mighty Martina Navratilova as her coach, barely broke a sweat in reaching the fourth round.
Williams arrived with her highest ranking since 2010, which was her last complete season before being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome. That year, the seven-time Grand Slam champion reached two Major quarter-finals and the semis at the US Open—but had not made a quarter-final since.
She did not lack the ambition to do so, but the fight to regain fitness and stamina was a constant one in the face of her debilitating condition. She picked up the Luxembourg title in 2012 and Dubai last year, but the rigours of Grand Slam tennis seemed a step too far. Perhaps, with her 35th birthday looming over the horizon, her hopes of ever going deep in a Major again were slipping away.
But that is to underestimate the love this warrior-like woman has for tennis, and her determination to keep up the good fight.
She started 2015 with the Auckland title, and came through a gruelling third-round contest against Camila Giorgi, from a set down, to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time since Wimbledon 2011.
Venus was not the only one with a psychological as well as a physical battle to reach further. Sister Serena had to play Garbine Muguruza, the WTA Rising Star who caused the worst Grand Slam loss of her career at last year’s French Open in a second-round rout.
The top-seeded Serena, also with the No1 ranking on the line in Melbourne, lost the first set this time, too, but fought back, saving multiple break points in final set, to take her place in the quarters. Hours later, she was courtside to see whether her sister could do the same.
The first set produced tennis of the highest order, with Radwanska weaving her angles, slice, and variety of pace to draw the best out of Williams’ defence. But the American, looking faster and fitter than in a very long time, was more than up to the task, and clearly determined to play big, first-strike tennis. Her forehand, in particular, pounded winner after winner off any second serve she was offered.
The pivotal game came at 3-3—won, it is worth recording, with a drop-shot-lob-combo by Williams worthy of Radwanska.
It took almost a quarter of an hour, 12 deuces and six break points for Williams to finally break the Polish woman down in a draining but gripping game. Not content with that, Williams did it all again at 5-3, this time pushing through five deuces and four break points for the game and a 6-3 set.
Radwanska had played more than 60 points on her serve to Williams’ 19, but the younger woman now appeared the faster and more assured in the second set. Williams looked as though the first nine games had taken a heavy toll, and although she survived her opening nine-minute service game, her overheads became careless and her forehand wayward as she cranked up 16 errors to Radwanska’s four. The Pole broke twice to take the set, 6-2.
But again, there came a clear turning point early in the third. Williams conceded a break in the first game with a dreadful smash, but refocused in the very next game to break back with a smash winner.
The two women stood at 78 points apiece, yet Williams now had her confidence back, as well as a second wind, and opened a gap with some punishing returns of serve. Once Williams had defended break point at 4-1, she ran away with the set in style, 6-1.
She was asked about the source of her inspiration and had no hesitation: “Definitely my sister Serena. She’s just the ultimate champion. And of course all my fans who stand behind me through thick and thin.”
Asked how she had come back so strongly in the third set, though, she struggled for an answer… “I think I went into a bit of a trance”… before adding with a laugh: “I just wanted to win!”
That sums up the Williams spirit, whichever the sister.
Awaiting Venus in the quarter-finals is a woman even younger than Radwanska, the 19-year-old Madison Keys. The powerhouse American continued her Grand Slam breakthrough with a straightforward win over Madison Brengle, 6-2, 6-4.
Williams, playing in her 65th Major, her 15th Australian Open, and the oldest woman in the second week in Melbourne, was enthused by the prospect of playing someone 15 years her junior.
“Apparently she started playing when she saw me and Serena play. She started watching me when she was in diapers! But she’s a wonderful player, and a great, great girl, and I’m always wishing her luck—though of course I want to win: Sorry! It’s just awesome to see a young American advancing deep into the Majors.”
Though not as awesome as seeing the valiant Venus do just the same.