Wuhan Open: Venus Williams survives Vinci challenge to set up Muguruza final

Venus Williams beats Roberta Vinci to set up a Wuhan Open final encounter with Garbine Muguruza in China

Venus Williams’ defeat of Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals of the prestigious Wuhan Open Premier had been a seesawing thriller that saw the fast-rising Briton serve for the match before Williams produced Grand Slam-style tennis to grab the advantage at the last moment.

Her hard-won victory over Roberta Vinci proved to be every bit as dramatic, and produced every bit as much fine tennis—and this time, Williams faced match-point before a barrage of superb strikes in the resolving tie-break seized the win, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4) after two hours and 43 minutes, four minutes longer than her victory over Konta just 24 hours before.

For a woman who has managed the debilitating Sjögren’s Syndrome for the last four years, dropped out of the top 100 at the end of 2011, and is now 35 years old, that is some effort, and her reward is a first final since she won her only tournament at the very start of the year, in Auckland.

It was an intriguing match-up, not least because Vinci, another woman enjoying an Indian summer, reached her first Grand Slam final at the US Open by beating world No1 Serena Williams.

And in her first tournament since that run, Vinci had already backed up an impressive win over Petra Kvitova with defeat of the No8 seed, Karoline Pliskova, and her all-court, tactically-astute tennis, using plenty of low slice and net play, began to look as though it would break through the formidable Williams armoury.

The 6ft 1in American let a 3-0 lead slip against the petite 5ft 4in Italian, who hit back to take the first set, 7-5. Williams, though, upped her level in the second set, playing some stunning ground strokes from inside the baseline.

More impressive, though, was her resilience in defence, as she ate up the court to fire back shots deep and wide off both wings. She also attacked the net with increasing frequency, picking up sliced drop shots and thumping away smashes and volleys. It was exhilarating tennis, and it raced her through the second set 6-2, and into a 5-2 lead in the third.

But Williams looked exhausted between points, and picked up a thigh strain, too, and Vinci took advantage with some crafty angles and slice: She took four games in a row to serve for the match. But a rare backhand sliced into the net, and her match point evaporated. She opened the door to some near flawless striking from Williams, who broke, and never lost the lead in the tie-break.

It concluded a match that epitomises fighting spirit, that was packed with sheer determination. No wonder Williams was delighted.

“Oh wow, I’m so excited to play the final! That was my dream when I came to this tournament, to play the final and have a chance for the title.

“Roberta played so well today—she had match point—so it was lucky for me to win this match. [But] it’s the semi-finals. It’s not time to get down. It’s time to figure it out. Even down match point, it’s not over. Just like when I was up and she didn’t give up. I felt the same way.”

And she shows no desire to retire yet: “I always want to be in finals. Even if it was the last tournament of my career, I would still want to be in that final. I don’t think that ever changes. It just never gets old and it’s never something that is a given.”

To lift the trophy, though, Williams will have to beat the young, powerful talent of Muguruza, who contested the Wimbledon final with sister Serena.

The Spaniard had ploughed a deep furrow through the bottom half of the draw, backing up her win over Ana Ivanovic with victory over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, and in the semis, the Spaniard also survived a late injury scare to overcome Angelique Kerber, 6-4 7-6(5).

Despite a time-out in the tie-break after feeling pain in her left foot, she managed to reach her first final since that Wimbledon run.

“I felt it at 4-something in the second set. Then in the tiebreak I felt something stronger. So I said, No, no, I cannot wait to get worse… I said, Okay, Garbine, play. Be aggressive and see what happens… come on, let’s do it. Let’s see these couple of points and see if you can close the match. I had a lot of chances to close the match before. I’m like, no way I’m going to lose this set.”

Williams and Muguruza have played twice before, in Florianopolis in 2013 and in Auckland in 2014, both on hard courts, both wins to Williams.

“I think it’s a good final,” said Muguruza. “I faced her sister in the last final, so it’s good to have her again… She’s playing good also. She had a very tough match also today. So I think it’s a good final.”

The 21-year-old Muguruza is on the cusp of the top five, up from around 30 a year ago, and so could make her debut at the WTA Championships in a month’s time. But with victory in Wuhan, Williams is also closing in on a place in Singapore—for the first time in eight years.

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