Venus Williams served for the second set twice today, was broken both times, but went on to win it in the end. We nearly got to see how Urszula Radwanska would have handled the same situation in the third set, though if we did, we probably wouldn't have known the outcome until Monday. But the sister of Agnieszka held on to beat the sister of Serena, and fading light, in a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 win that wasn't cemented until 9:32 pm local time, just after a Venus backhand collided with the net.
Though Radwanska was the better player for the majority of this highly entertaining opening-day contest, this match was about Williams' surges. Her best was superior to Radwanska's best whenever those forces collided, but Williams' force flickered in City of Light. In the first set, which incredibly featured 10 breaks of serve, Williams fell behind 6-1 in the tiebreaker, but made Radwanska win pressure points to get the 7-5 result.
Something similar happened in the overtime portion of the second set, after Williams twice failed to serve it out—the slow clay didn't do her biggest weapon any favors. Radwanska, at this point filled with confidence earned from her defense and forehand, both of which were outstanding today, raced out to a 4-0 lead. But again Williams wouldn't give away anything; she flipped a switch and just as quickly took the next seven points to extend an already strenuous affair, particularly on the American with Sjögren's syndrome.
You could chalk up these runs partly to Radwanska's nerves, understandably so. More emotive than her sister, Urszula appeared on the brink of tears at one point, but on the whole played composed. But Williams' surges were largely a result of her own physical gifts, still able to crack forehands and play dogged clay-court tennis at 32.
But at Williams' age, as we are occasionally seeing with fellow veteran Roger Federer, sometimes the brilliance inexplicably disappears. Before the sparse crowd, which included Serena, knew it, Radwanska had taken a 3-0, double-break lead in the final set, and at the three-hour mark was leading 5-1. As a testament to the match's quality, this Radwanska surge owed to her defense and forehand, which couldn't miss at times. It's an explosive shot I bet her sister would love to have, and it measured up well against a player who knows a thing or two about devastating groundstrokes.
But there's a reason you have to serve out a match, and not forehand out one. No matter how strong her ground game was, Radwanska still had to cross a creaking wooden bridge, each Williams return a fallen plank. Williams regularly teed off on Radwanska's serve, firing clean winners and bullets back to her body, many of which the Pole did well to get back. Up by two breaks, she needed both, losing serve at 5-2 without seeing a match point.
Radwanska wouldn't until 5-4, and it came appropriately enough on a bold forehand that painted the corner, leaving Williams without a chance to reply. She didn't seal her second-round berth with an ace, or an unreturned serve—truthfully, though, she handled the mounting pressure admirably—or even a forehand. She did on a Williams error, just as Virginie Razzano did one year ago, against Serena.