Venus sinks, Serena survives on rally day at Aussie
To lose one Williams in an afternoon was bad enough. To lose two –- well, Serena wasn’t going to let that happen, although odds of the second sister surviving the quarterfinals of the Australian Open looked perilously unlikely when Victoria Azarenka led by a set and 4-0 on Wednesday.
It was then that Serena decided she was not going to allow her title to slip through her fingers and began what turned out to be a magnificent fight back, winning the second set tiebreak from 1-3 down and blasting her way through the third to pull off a tremendous 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 victory.
Venus had not been so fortunate. Faced with Li Na, the 16th seed from China who had beaten her in their only previous meeting in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Venus never came close to playing her best tennis in an error-strewn match and went down 2-6, 7-6, 7-5.
Li, a smooth hitter with a little more power in her strokes than most of the Chinese players, had been outplayed in the first set and seemed doomed when she dropped serve to go 2-0 down in the second. But she didn’t panic and slowly started to force some errors out of her tall opponent. Attacking the net more frequently than Venus, she got back on serve and held steady in the breaker to take it 7-4.
The third was a horror story for anyone trying to serve. There were six consecutive breaks and by the time Li emerged from the carnage leading 6-5, serve had only been held twice in 11 games. By this time Venus, obviously troubled by the bright sunshine which hangs in a difficult position above Rod Laver Arena in mid-afternoon, had produced eleven double faults. Still moving well and striking some excellent winners from all parts of the court, Li closed it out in nerveless fashion.
"Maybe just pressure on each other," Li replied when asked why there were so many service breaks before adding that she did not want to call it the best win of her career "because tournament is not finished yet."
Obviously she is not satisfied, nor should she be. Venus, meanwhile, was typically wistful.
"I would love to have held service more," she mused. "I think that definitely would have helped my effort. I felt confident going into the match. Even in the third -– you know I was leading (3-1). But in tennis you have to close it out. It’s not like there’s a clock ticking."
No clock, no whistle -– just the nasty business of having to win match point. And Venus never even got that far. So the Australian remains out of her reach. But she insists she will be back to try again.
Serena still has the title in the family, although by the time she was down two breaks in the second set, Azarenka had done everything possible to wrench it from her grasp with some dazzling, aggressive stroke play, reminiscent of her fine victory over Vera Zvonareva in the previous round.
But Serena never accepts that she is in a hopeless position and suddenly started unleashing a stream of brilliant winners off both flanks.
"I think I played good tennis today but what can you do?" Azarenka said afterward. "I had chances. But I didn’t take them. At 4-0, what was going through my head was to hang on and try to be more aggressive. But, instead, I probably backed up a little bit. I gave her more time to go for her shots."
That, of course is fatal against Serena. Bandaged like a mummy or not, the world No. 1 raced about court, showing no signs of fatigue or restriction in movement and was in complete control of the match by the time she grabbed the tiebreak.
Serena admitted that an improvement in her serve was the key to her victory.
"Yeah, I think in the second set, I had 42 percent first serves which really isn’t very good," she said. "But I was still able to win that. I knew if I could just do a little better and make less errors -– I had a lot -– I knew I could do better."
It is impossible to judge just how much the defeat of one sister upsets another but Serena hinted that Venus’ loss had not helped. Asked if she had been watching the match on TV, she replied, "Well, maybe I saw one or two points. I just try not to think about it too much. I get too nervous watching and my stomach is just sick. I get way too emotionally involved. So it’s not good for me watching her match before I play. And, obviously I was incredibly disappointed. But it was impossible to avoid it. The locker room was a frenzy so you pretty much know what’s going on."