Miami: V. Williams d. Ivanovic

by: Richard Pagliaro | March 26, 2012

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201203262206795799411-p2@stats_comThe courtside clock had crept past midnight, but Venus Williams was too busy turning back time to notice. Continuing her inspired comeback, Williams rallied from a set down to defeat Ana Ivanovic, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-2, and roar into the Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals for the 10th time.

Fourteen years ago, Venus fought back from a set down against another adidas-clad Anna—Anna Kournikova—to collect the second title of her career at Crandon Park. The multi-colored beads that popped from her braids are gone now, her hair held in place by her vanilla visor, but Venus is back in fighting form and exhibited the competitiveness that has helped her win three Miami titles. She summoned that spirit in saving a match point against Aleksandra Wozniak in a two-hour and 53-minute thriller on Sunday, and the physical demands of that match—combined with the fact she's playing her first tournament of the year while waging an ongoing battle with Srojen's syndrome—figured to sap some of her strength in this clash of former world No. 1's. But both women came out cracking the ball.

This was a match of first-strike tennis between two aggressive players averse to giving up ground. Venus broke in the opening game and quickly consolidated. Ivanovic, who danced around her backhand to lash her favored forehand into the corners, converted her sixth break point of the sixth game when Williams dumped a drop shot into the bottom of the net for 3-3.  Ivanovic used a series of forehand strikes to take a 4-1 lead in the breaker, only to miss successive backhand passes and watch Williams drill a backhand winner down the line for 4-all. Ivanovic's slice serve nicked the edge of the sideline for 5-4, and she successfully challenged a Williams' second serve for 6-4 before a bold forehand return set up yet another forehand winner down the line to seal the set.

The 134th-ranked Williams entered this match with a 7-1 career edge over Ivanovic due in part to two of her most underrated assets—her superior court coverage and defensive skills. At 31, Venus is still one of the fastest women on tour, and she showed that speed by repeatedly running down balls that would elude most players. Successive Ivanovic double faults gave Williams a break point, and she swooped forward to slam a forehand swing volley for a break and 4-2 lead. The turning point came in the next game, as Ivanovic slashed a forehand winner down the line to earn triple break point, only to see Williams dig out of that hole and hold with an ace for 5-2. An exquisite sharp-angled forehand winner gave Williams her fourth straight game as she sealed the second set.

The wild card drove a deep return that jammed Ivanovic to break for 4-2 in the final set. A mental tug-of-war erupted in the next game as Williams, who hit 13 aces and saved 11 of 12 break points, hit five of her eight double faults in a grueling game she finally won when Ivanovic splattered a backhand wide. Next up for Venus is a quarterfinal date with fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska.

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