In a match of former No. 1s, the Rolex court-side clock looked a little inadequate for the task it timed. Venus Williams blazed through points with such powerful conviction, a stop-watch was better suited to measure the brevity of exchanges.
Pouncing on short balls and dictating behind her stinging serve, Williams took time away from Ana Ivanovic and left the former French Open champion looking a step slow and a swing late, breezing into the Dubai quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-1 rout that spanned just 56 minutes.
The clash was a rematch of last month’s Auckland final, which Ivanovic won, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. This time around, Williams took declarative first strikes to impose the last word—she won all 18 points played on her first serve.
Swooping forward to whip a forehand swing volley off the sideline, Williams earned the first break point, opened the court with a cross-court backhand, then plastered a darting winner down the line to break for 2-1. Quick off the mark, the legendary wild card ran down a drop shot and guided a backhand winner up the line to consolidate for 3-1. When Williams, who repeatedly pulverized her inside-out forehand to Ivanovic’s weaker backhand wing, broke again she had a 4-1 lead after just 15 minutes of play.
Erasing the only two break points she faced in the set to hold for 5-1, Williams hit twice as many winners as Ivanovic in the opener (11 to five), directing 75 percent of her ad-side serves to the Serbian’s backhand to provoke short replies.
Trying to stop the bleeding, the world No. 12 called coach Nemanja Kontic on court and revealed the emotional severity of her plight by doing more venting than listening. Ivanovic played inspired tennis yesterday, saving a match point to beat the counter-punching Angelique Kerber 7-6 in the third, but looked a bit weary and had no answer for Williams today.
The scary stat for Ivanovic was that Williams served just 38 percent in the first set, but still dominated, winning all 10 of her first-serve points and 50 percent of her second-serve points. Ivanovic often tried stepping inside the baseline to try to take Williams’ second serve on the rise, only to find herself victimized by the body serve, stretching in vain for the wide slice or simply unable to time the return. She might have been wiser to back off a bit and give herself more time, but by then Williams had turned the match into rush hour and it was one-way traffic.
Breaking to open the second set, Williams showed some of her quickest footwork—consistently dancing around her inside-out forehand to ensure proper space between her body and the ball—and cleanest ball-striking of the season, breaking again for 4-1 and backing up the break with a love hold for 5-1.
“It wasn’t easy. I had to make all my shots because we both play a similar game that’s powerful and dangerous so I’m really happy to get through,” Williams told TennisTV.com’s Annabel Croft. “Playing consistently and trying to keep my errors down always helps my cause. It’s a long road back and I’m still making my way back. I’m not taking anything for granted; I’m just trying to do everything right. I love being back here.”
The two-time Dubai champion will play Flavia Pennetta for a semifinal spot. Australian Open quarterfinalist Pennetta, who thrashed Agnieszka Radwanska, is 4-3 lifetime against Venus, though they haven't squared off since 2009.