US Open 2015: Venus Williams defies the years to beat Rising Star Belinda Bencic
Venus Williams beats Belinda Bencic to reach the fourth round of the US Open in New York
There is no doubting who the queen of Queens has been this year at the US Open.
World No1 Serena Williams, back to make it three titles in a row on the biggest stage in tennis, has been the hot favourite all year to win not just her seventh US title, not just her 22nd Grand Slam, but to join rarefied company by winning the Calendar Grand Slam.
It has been Serena’s name and face on every hoarding and filling the back pages of newspapers and the front page of sports websites. Little wonder: In reaching the third round here, she made it 50 wins for just two losses this season, claiming not just the other three Majors but Miami and Cincinnati, too.
However, as luck would have, it, she drew and short end of the stick in the draw, and while seeds fell like nine-pins in the other quarters, hers retained some tough opponents: Madison Keys, Agnieszka Radwanska, plus two very significant others.
Competing for a possible quarter-final against Williams were her sister Venus and one of those two women to beat here this year, Belinda Bencic.
It was a battle for the ages, of course; Venus, age 35, and the owner of seven Grand Slams, played her first US Open in the year that Bencic was born—and reached the final. She would not fall short of the semis in New York for the next six years and won the title in 2000 and 2001, before the 18-year-old Swiss was at kindergarten.
And while Venus had hit the bumpers in 2011, first with injury, then with Sjogren’s Syndrome, which she has battled to manage ever since, she was still, on her day and on her surface, one of the most formidable players on the tour. Now seeded 23, she could claim Caroline Wozniacki, Radwanska, and Bencic among her scalps this year. Indeed she had beaten the teenager in all three of their previous matches.
But Bencic had emerged at this very tournament last year to reach her first Major quarter-final, beating two top-10 players on the way. By the end of the year, she was ranked 33, and took to the grass this year like a duck to water: the final of ‘s-Hertogonbosch, title in Eastbourne, and the fourth round of Wimbledon took her to the top 20 with wins over the likes of Wozniacki, Radwanska, Bouchard and Keys. And the best was still over the horizon: Her first Premier title in Toronto, the site of that victory over Serena Williams, along with Eugenie Bouchard, Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep—that is, four top-10 players in a single week.
So the young woman who took on the might of Venus for the fourth time was a very different prospect.
In fact both women had been sorely tested to reach this point: Bencic faced break points before pulling out an emotional three-set win over Misaki Doi, while Venus had survived two three-setters in a row—a real test of her stamina.
But she has proven her courage under pressure many times before, and the oldest woman in the draw dominated the teenager from the word go, serving at an average of 109mph on her first delivery, pounding her forehand with devastating pace and accuracy to each corner, and taking the Bencic serve early and strongly. And when she came to the net, which she did 22 times, the intimidation factor soared yet higher.
The two stayed on even terms through six games, with Bencic showing great resilience and smart tactics to hold off three break points at 2-3. But the unrelenting pressure told in the eighth game with a break to love—courtesy of her first double fault—and Williams served it out with three huge aces and an error from Bencic, 6-3. The American had hit 16 winners to three from the Swiss.
Bencic was by no means out of the contest: her nimble, accurate and varied baseline game, combined with clean ball-striking and a serve that can swing and veer through the court, had made few errors—five—and fought off break points in the opening game of the second set.
She was buoyed up further when she broke Venus in the fourth game, making a clean pass down the line to beat the net-hugging American. Bencic consolidated on serve for 4-1, but Williams was about to up the tempo, and sure enough, it brought the break back, and another in the ninth game, with a devastating display from the baseline.
Williams would not be denied, and with a fifth consecutive game, served out the match, 6-4, and an impressive 31 winners for just 15 errors.
She laughed at the inevitable opening on-court question, how she was still able to find such quality after 18 years on the tour:
“Why do you have to bring all that stuff up? You make me feel old!”
But she could not stop smiling, as she explained: “I love the game, I love the US Open, and how everyone got behind me. It’s a wonderful feeling… It’s never over ‘til it’s over.”
Then she revealed the real secret to her success—with Bencic the unfortunate latest to be on the receiving end: “It’s always balance for me between playing aggressive and making errors—but I’d always rather play aggressive!”
Williams has not been past the third round in New York since 2010, but this year, she will have the advantage of taking on the world No152, another teenager, Anett Konteveit—though the Estonian has already dismissed two American opponents.
But with this straight-sets win, in such style, Williams could well be on the way to that sisterly quarter-final—and she beamed at the very thought of it.
Elsewhere, No13 seed Ekaterina Makarova beat No17 seed Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 7-5, despite needing treatment to an injured right thigh. She will next take on Kristina Mladenovic.
Roberta Vinci also continued her love-affair with New York, the only Major where she has reached the quarter-finals—twice—to beat Mariana Duque-Marino, and will play the winner between Bouchard and Dominika Cibulkova.