MASON, OHIO—On Thursday, Venus Williams reminded the press that beating Samantha Stosur in Rome this past spring secured her Olympic berth in London. Indeed, Stosur seems to draw out Venus’s strengths quite often—especially her cross-court backhand—while not truly hurting the American with one of her main weapons, the kick serve. These things held today in a topsy-turvy three-set quarterfinal that saw flurries of forehand winners and double faults from both, with the two Slam champs never playing their best in unison. When it was over: Venus prevailed by the score of 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4.
Each entered to exuberant cheers, with many in the crowd gasping at the announcement of Venus’s 43 career titles, tied with sister Serena, for the most among active pros. Venus backed up her credentials by opening with two straight aces before breaking her Aussie foe. Stosur nearly broke back by way of two down-the-line forehand winners in the third game but played the big points poorly. Venus struck authoritative forehands throughout the first set.
Venus dealt with serve-toss troubles at times, which showed by her nine double faults. Stosur got back on serve at 3-2 in the first behind her improved play, but Venus defended well to break for 4-2 with solid backhands Stosur couldn’t handle. The 2011 U.S. Open winner, who had been hitting her two-hander to that point, then reverted to one-handed backhand slices that Venus tracked down and beat back to Stosur’s weaker side, ultimately taking the set 6-2.
Stosur dictated early in the second set, going up 2-0 but then deflating with a double fault to make it 2-all. She was visibly irritated but too classy to overtly show it. Venus slapped an ace up the T on the ad side in moving ahead 3-2, also moving well in the bright 80-degree sun. Her defense to offense was sharp, but Stosur countered with a barrage of forehand winners, as the two engaged in hard-hitting rallies of 10 shots or more, some of the week’s best. Stosur fended off Venus’s attempt to serve out the match at 5-4 and then blitzed her in the tie break, taking a 5-1 lead and snagging the set by a 7-2 margin.
Knowing that Venus was serving to her backhand at will, Stosur favored that side. It proved a liability in the second and third sets, as Venus then often sent her second tries to Stosur’s far forehand corner. Aside from her scattered double faults, Venus was saved in a way by her well executed second serves despite an ace-meets-double-fault combo that had her in purgatory a couple times. In the second set, Stosur served at 78 percent to Venus’s paltry 43 percent.
In the final set, Venus continued her confident strides between points and didn’t look fatigued. Her recent slumping as body language goes was absent. She broke quickly and took a 3-1 lead, as Stosur regressed. That set featured intense, powerful, even irritated hitting, with one point, won by Stosur, that had volleys, lobs, and moon balls, all. Venus harbored a 5-2 advantage before Stosur broke and held, but the seven-time Slam winner ended the match with a sterling service winner and an untouched forehand, showing her energy level with a trio of patented leaps into the air. In a sign of how close this bout was, each player won 32 points in the third set, with Venus edging Stosur 106-103 for the match.
The elder Williams sister is Cincy’s first female semifinalist this week. She gets Agnieszka Radwanska or Li Na there. Beyond that, hardly assured, may be her sister Serena.