Serena Williams is back, and so is her sister, Venus, and the two will meet in the second round of the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics in Lexington, Kentucky, on Wednesday.
One Grand Slam winner, former World No 1, to another. It’s been quite the draw for me, but quite honestly, this is perfect, because I haven’t played in forever, so I want to play the best players. And I think I got my wish playing Serena, so here we go. Venus Williams
Venus’s journey was relatively straightforward, outplaying Victoria Azarenka in a battle of two former World No 1s on Tuesday, and it was Williams who emerged the winner, 6-3 6-2.
“Honestly, it’s really difficult to come back after all these months and play well,” Venus said, during her post-match press conference. “Most of the time in practice, you’re hitting the ball well, then a match comes and it’s just not the same.
“I think for both of us, [it’s] just to walk out there and hopefully play well, and I think we both did.”
Venus is a 7-time Grand Slam champion and now will face another former World No 1 in her 23-time major-winning sister Serena, whose passage was far from easy.
She had to overcome fellow American Bernarda Pera from a set down and 0-40 on her serve at 4-4 in the second before normal service was resumed and she prevailed, 4-6 6-4 6-1
One miss and Pera would have served for the match but, at 15-40, Serena fired a forehand winner, and at 30-40, she did the same with a backhand that just clipped the baseline, and then she held for 5-4… and the rest was history.
Playing her steadiest game of the match, she came back from the abyss and broke for the second set to level in about 5 minutes, and just 30 minutes later, Serena was into the second round.
By then, it almost looked routine and slow starts are always possible with Serena, but this time she was even late getting to the court, with a last-minute decision to tape her ankles delaying the start by a good 8 minutes.
in the opening game, she double faulted and broke a string.
She had trouble getting around on her ground strokes in time, and she struggled to make any inroads on Pera’s first serve in the opening set.
In the fifth game, Serena turned her ankle and fell hard, but got right back up and kept playing.
Pera is ranked 60th and is not an easy player to start a comeback against, left-handed with a good serve, while she hits the ball hard and flat, and is able to dispatch anything short with a quick forehand strike.
She had also spent the previous month playing World TeamTennis, while Serena admitted she has precious few practice matches under her belt, let alone real matches, since January.
Her previous match was in the Fed Cup clash with Latvia in February, while she has not played a tournament match since January’s Australian Open, the WTA Tour having been shut down since early match due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pera, the World No 60, broke in the 5th game and fought off 2 break points on her own serve before a thumping winner sealed the first set.
Williams saw a 3-1 lead pegged back in the second, and saved 4 break points to deny Pera the chance to serve for the match, but the 38-year-old found some of her famous fighting spirit to level the match after forcing a Pera error.
“I’ve been practicing really well and I wasn’t getting a good rhythm out here, and I just kept thinking, ‘Serena, play like you’ve been practicing’,” she said afterwards. “I knew I could play a little bit better if I just hung in there.
“I feel like I always play Venus first or second round, every tournament, so that’s annoying. And I always play Vika early, so we’ll see…”
A month short of her 39th birthday, she seems as keen to play as ever, but maybe not her sister quite so soon after the layoff.
“One Grand Slam winner, former World No 1, to another,” said Venus Williams. “It’s been quite the draw for me, but quite honestly, this is perfect, because I haven’t played in forever, so I want to play the best players.
“And I think I got my wish playing Serena, so here we go.”
Serena holds an 18-12 head-to-head lead over her 40-year-old sibling, and their most recent completed match went the way of Serena, 6-1 6-2, in the third-round of the 2018 US Open.
Against Azarenka on Tuesday, Venus produced a comprehensive 80-minute victory, facing just one break point and swatting it away in an impenetrable day on her service.
The American was also perfect when she held break points, converting all 3 she created in the match.
“The serve is the most important shot in tennis,” said Williams. “If you can have that up and going, it’s a huge advantage, and today it was working for me.
“The serve has been a big motif in my whole career, so what can I say? When it’s working, it gives me that extra advantage.
“Having all those first serves going in against Victoria was super helpful,” Williams continued. “Vika is an unbelievable returner, so a lot of those serves actually came back with interest, and if you’re hitting too many second serves against her, then watch out! So I had to play the perfect match against her.”
It was a much-needed first match-win of the season for Williams, who dropped her opening-round matches at the Australian Open, Acapulco, and Monterrey earlier in the year.
For Azarenka of Belarus, it was only her second event of the year, and the two-time Australian Open champion is still seeking her first match-win of 2020 after losing her only prior match to Tamara Zidansek in Monterrey.
Canadian qualifier Leylah Fernandez claimed her second consecutive victory over No 7 seed Sloane Stephens nearly 6 months after stunning the former US Open champion in Monterrey.
The 17-year-old came back from a set down to stun Stephens in Monterrey en route to the quarter-finals, but it was an easier task in Lexington for Fernandez, who was broken only once as she sealed the victory, 6-3 6-3.
“It felt great being back on court,” Fernandez told wtatennis.com after the match. “Those six months were really hard mentally, not knowing when to start, how to train, how hard to train.
“I think my team and I did a good job planning and moving forward from there. And just being on court again I just had a lot of energy, I felt happier because the competition starts again. Hopefully it’ll keep going like this.”
In the second round, Fernandez will take on American wildcard Shelby Rogers, who took out Japan’s Misaki Doi in 3 sets, with the winner going on to face either Venus Williams or top seed Serena Williams in the quarters.
“I’m just happy to be competing again. I know my next match will be a tough one, so we’ll see how it goes,” Fernandez concluded.
American teenager Coco Gauff fought past qualifier Caroline Dolehide, 7-5 7-5, to earn her first victory of the summer, setting up a second-round clash with No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka.
“Honestly, I would give it an A,” said Gauff, after being asked to grade her day’s work in her on-court post-match interview. “It was my first match back since January, and even though I probably didn’t play the best tennis as possible, I think that the attitude and effort was an A.”
The 16-year-old is the youngest player in the draw, and she survived a stern test from powerful 21-year-old Dolehide, closing out the closely-contested match after an hour and 42 minutes of play.
“I’m just out here having fun,” said Gauff. “Obviously, I want to win, but I’m not going to put pressure on myself to win anything. I just try my best out there on the court every day.”
Gauff had 8 aces during the encounter, and won 80 percent of points off of her first serve, as she fought back from a break down in the second set by clinching the final 3 games of the match to earn the straight-set win.