43-year old Venus Williams won her first match against a player in the Top 50 in nearly 4 years on the WTA Tour on the grass courts of Edgbaston Priory Lawn Tennis Club in Birmingham, where she upset 48th-ranked Camila Giorgi in the 1st-round of the Rothesay Classic on Monday.
It was touch and go there, and I felt the support. I thought I played really well today, and she played incredible. I'm so surprised she's not No 1 in the world! Venus Williams
Williams, a former World No 1 who is now ranked 697, prevailed over the Italian,7-6(5) 4-6 7-6(6), after 3 hours and 17 minutes.
“There were so many moments where I thought, ‘This match is over,’ then she would hit a shot from out of nowhere,” Williams said. “She pushed me to be better than what I thought I could be, and it’s great for me.
“I haven’t played a lot of matches, and it’s great to come through.”
The American 7-time Grand Slam champion and 5-time winner of the Wimbledon singles, has been out for 6 months because of a hamstring injury sustained in Auckland, New Zealand, in the first week of the year.
On her return last week, she lost to Swiss 17-year-old Celine Naef in the opening round of the Libema Open in the Netherlands.
Williams, who has a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and runs her own clothing line, EleVen, recently visited the Moco Museum in Amsterdam, where she saw Banksy’s works in person for the first time.
She posted a video of her experience on Sunday: “Do you love @banksy like I do now? I found one of my favorite museums here @mocomuseum in the Netherlands and discovered a few new artists I fell in love with, like @artist_the_kid. It was also my first time seeing Banksy in person which was mesmerizing! This museum is housed in a gorgeous historical home, it’s tiny but so impressionable. I can’t wait to go back when I get back to Amsterdam!” she captioned her post.
The Modern Contemporary Museum features works by Banksy, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, and other influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.
At the WTA 250 in Birmingham, Williams had a scare when she was forced to take a medical time-out in the first set after falling on the grass, and, when play resumed, Giorgi had the upper hand, but the Americna stubbornly held on and went on to take the opener in a tightly-contested tiebreak.
The second went Giorgi’s way, although Williams did not stop playing catch-up until the final game of the set.
Vintage serving from Williams saw her dominate the first half of the decider, as she powered out to a 5-2 lead without facing a break point, but she had to hold off a determined come-back attempt from the World No 48.
A superb pass from Giorgi prevented Williams from serving the match out, and although the Italian never led in the ensuing breaker, she constantly nipped at the American’s heels with her easy power.
Williams survived the stern test, though, exercising more control at the end, varying her play down the home stretch with delicate net play and clever use of the slice, and committed just one unforced error in the deciding tiebreak.
When Giorgi’s final backhand went long, Williams celebrated with a trio of fist-pumps before grinning broadly at a crowd that had been willing her on throughout, safely into the 2nd-round.
“It was touch and go there, and I felt the support,” Williams told the Ann Jones Centre Court audience after the match. “I thought I played really well today, and she played incredible. I’m so surprised she’s not No 1 in the world!
“I got off to a great start, and my leg started hurting in the third game. I was like, ‘Oh no, not this’. It was really hard to control my emotions, to be honest.
“Eventually I just acclimated to what I was going through and tried to ignore it. I couldn’t move as well as I wanted, but I tried to get to every ball that I could.”
Next up, Williams will face another barrage of power as she takes on either 2nd-seed Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia or the talented 18-year-old Czech, Linda Noskova.
The last time Williams won consecutive matches was during her run to the Cincinnati quarter-finals in 2019.
Meanwhile, another young Czech, Linda Fruhvirtova, stunned Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in their 1st-round meeting.
Svitolina came into the tournament following her impressive run to the Last 8 at the French Open, but clearly struggled to get herself going on the grass courts of Birmingham.
Fruhvirtova clinched a 6-2 6-0 win after only 52 minutes of play against the Ukrainian wild-card, who has been ranked as high as No 3 in the world.
The 18-year-old, who won her first Hologic WTA Tour title in Chennai last year, snapped her 4-match losing streak in some style, racing past Svitolina to set up a 2nd-round encounter with 6th-seeded Bernarda Pera from the USA, who advanced with a 6-4 7-6(3) over another Czech, Marie Bouzkova.
Svitolina only returned from maternity leave in April, and has cut her ranking from No 508 to 73 over the past month after winning her 17th career title in Strasbourg, and then reaching the Roland Garros quarters, but she unable to bring her clay-court prowess into her first match on grass since 2021.
The Ukrainian committed 22 unforced errors, frequently misfiring on her finishing shots, while Fruhvirtova delivered a solid performance, highlighted by her pinpoint lobs in the second set.
The match was the 57th-ranked Fruhvirtova’s debut in the main draw of a tour-level grass tournament, and she had won just 1 of her 4 previous professional matches on the surface, but she enjoyed an excellent junior grass career, winning the 2021 Roehampton Grade A tournament and reaching the Wimbledon girls’ semi-finals a week later.
“I don’t think I was even the favourite in the match, because Elina played so unbelievable in the last few months,” said Fruhvirtova afterwards. “I had my first hit on grass this year on Saturday, so I was a little nervous about how it was going to go, but I have great memories of the British grass from juniors, so I was really looking forward to coming here.”
There were also wins for 3rd-seeded Magda Linette from Poland, who outlasted Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, 3-6 7-5 6-4, and Anhelina Kalinina, the No 5 seed from Ukraine, who dispatched Alycia Parks from the USA, 6-4 6-4, while Caty McNally won the contest with Lauren Davis, 6-1 7-5, in an all-American encounter.