Racquet Reaction

Dubai: V. Williams d. Cornet

Saturday, February 22, 2014 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

In the G-rated words of Kanye West, How could you be so heartless?

Venus Williams, one of the nicest athletes of all, was merciless in winning her first title since 2012—and, if you can believe it, only her second in the last four years. She did it with a 6-3, 6-0 triumph over Alize Cornet, and won seven of the final eight games after a changeover in which the Frenchwoman was sobbing uncontrollably:

(Uploading credit: @FortyDeuceTwits)

Whatever you think of that display, I found Venus’ relentless approach to be refreshing, considering how rarely we’ve seen her on Sundays over the last four years. Her play all week—five straight-sets wins—reminded veteran viewers of the old Venus, which is really the young Venus. And it made me wonder what might have been had she been spared the fate of dealing with an energy-sapping disease for the past three years. We’ll never know, but it’s nice to know that she can still put it together, even as she approaches 34.

Her play was more than enough to handle Cornet, and it probably would have been enough to handle Serena, had she beat Cornet yesterday. Instead of random, rally-killing errors, Venus forced the action with aggressive, side-to-side play. I thought her shot selection during the first game first of the second set—one Cornet really needed to hold to stem the tide—was impressive and inspiring. Instead of playing safe at deuce, Venus opted for a down-the-line forehand that sailed past Cornet, no easy task considering the 24-year-old’s defensive abilities. A point earlier, Venus broke pattern by opting for an inside-in forehand winner that was unreturnable the moment she lifted her racquet. She went on to hold a long, multi-deuce game, and while Cornet made most of the second set competitive, the score told the cold truth.

Cornet was given an incredibly difficult task today: She had to beat a Williams a day after defeating one—“definitely the biggest win of my career,” she said—in the biggest final of her career. She also had to play overly aggressive tennis in order to combat Venus’ towering form, which didn’t work out well. Cornet went for too much at times and was a wreck on serve against one of the game’s all-time great returners. It’s enough to bring even the most stoic player to head-shaking, and one of the most emotive to...well, you saw.

It was a surprising display of dominance—“Oh, thank you!” said Venus after being told her serve was the best it’s been all week—and a surprising tournament overall, which featured unlikely upsets and perhaps an even more unlikely champion. But maybe we shouldn’t be shocked: Venus often plays best at events where she’s had prior success. In her heyday, she was nearly unbeatable at Wimbledon, and she’s now won 15 consecutive matches, and three titles, in Dubai. That bodes well for the immediate future, should she play Acapulco (maybe?) and Miami (definitely), two tournaments whose trophies she’s familiar with.

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