On a blustery afternoon, wind gusts blew bits of copper-colored dirt into the players' eyes, prompted one fan to fashion a scarf into a surgeon's mask for protection, and swept service tosses askew like runaway balloons. Unruly conditions transformed a lunch-time battle between Grand Slam champions Venus Williams and Samantha Stosur into a break fest: The former French Open finalists collaborated on six breaks in the first nine games.
Ultimately, Williams unleashed a tennis tempest of her own. Facing a 1-3 second-set deficit, the American wild card slammed three aces to hold, sparking a surge that saw her win five straight games to storm past Stosur, 6-4, 6-3, into the Rome quarterfinals.
The whipping wind made the simple act of striking the toss cleanly an adventure, as the match began with four consecutive breaks before Williams fought off a pair of break points to hold for 3-2. Finding her range after a scratchy start, Williams broke at love, winning 12 consecutive points to stretch the lead to 5-2.
The fifth-seeded Aussie crunched an inside-out forehand winner that put her back on serve at 4-5. Stosur’s 30-0 lead in the ensuing game dissolved, however, and when her forehand down the line strayed wide, Williams had set point. A nervous drop shot from Stosur sat up, and Williams got to the ball—but pushed her forehand into the top of the tape.
Stosur sometimes stiff-arms her backhand under pressure. Consequently, her backhand down the line is not the most reliable shot. Williams knew that, and shaded to her backhand corner, baiting Stosur to hit the backhand. Stosur netted one to hand Venus a second set point. Stosur's second serve strayed wide of the center stripe as her double fault ended a 48-minute opening set.
The reigning U.S. Open champion beat a winded Williams for the first time in five matches last month in the Charleston quarterfinals and carried a 13-3 clay-court record into today's match. Prior to that, Williams had won all eight sets the pair played, and you can see why this is a comfortable match for Venus. Stosur's two biggest weapons—the kick serve and inside-out topspin forehand—don't really faze the 6'1" Williams too much, as Venus prefers the high ball to the low shot and has a wide wing span, enabling her to create the angles. She's more explosive on the run, too.
The 1999 Rome champion offers Stosur little rhythm because she can terminate rallies so abruptly with a slew of winners or errors. Williams is also capable of dumping three double faults in a game, as she did in a horrific opening game of the second set, but also throwing down three aces with ease, as she did in a dominant fifth game. That hold signaled a shift in the match as Venus, grunts growing louder, worked her way to net and knocked off a forehand volley to break for 3-3. Two games later, Williams jolted a return into the hip to break for 5-3.
Aiming for her seventh Rome semifinal, Venus meets reigning champ Maria Sharapova or Ana Ivanovic next.