Miami: S. Williams d. Shvedova

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Yaroslava Shvedova is the kind of player elite women hate to play. She has an excellent serve, she makes good power, she’s quick around the court, and she isn’t easily intimidated despite a seemingly contradictory tendency to sputter and fail when she’s actually in a position to win—or perhaps more accurately, to do what’s expected. What must be done.

Thus, Shvedova was a dangerous second-round opponent for Serena Williams. The world No. 1 hadn’t played since almost a month ago in Dubai, and she’s won just one title thus far this year—the first one on offer, Brisbane. She also hasn’t played on home soil since last year's U.S. Open, but her debut was successful as she defeated Shvedova, 7-6 (7), 6-2, in a twilight clash at Crandon Park.

Williams started strong, returning well enough to threaten in the fourth game. But Shvedova fended off five break points, most of them with either stinging serves or precise and powerful groundstrokes. Shvedova likes to take the ball on the rise, and that makes her an extremely dangerous player when she's moving well.

Williams did finally convert on her sixth break chance. Shvedova seemed to have the point won with a massive down-the-line backhand, but Williams, out of position and fully extended, shoveled it back. Shvedova tried a drop shot, but Williams pounced on it and drove home a down-the-line backhand winner.

This was just one of the times Shvedova played as if she believed the drop shot was an effective weapon against Williams. The truth is that Williams simply is faster than she may appear—partly, but only partly, because her natural predisposition is to move forward. The rest of it is her explosion gene or, in more mundane terms, her athleticism.

Williams seemed to be in firm control with that 3-1 lead, but after building a 30-love lead in the next game she double-faulted. It opened the door for Shvedova, who won the next point, pressured Williams, and broke back with a forehand return winner off a Williams second serve.

Shvedova backed it up with a swift hold for 3-all and then stunned the crowd with another break for 4-3. She held the next game, but when Williams' turn came so did she. Serving for set at 5-4, Shvedova jumped to a 30-love lead. At that point, Williams reeled off three straight points to take a 30-40 lead, and she clinched for 5-all when Shvedova drove a forehand third-ball into the net.

Still, Shvedova did not crumble. Both women held to usher in a tiebreaker in which Shvedova would have three consecutive set points starting at 3-6, with two serves to come. She squandered the first one with a forehand drive into the net. She hit a double fault to waste the second set point. Williams took care of the third one with an ace. She liked that feeling so much that she hit another one with her very next serve, and that brought her to a set point of her own.

Shvedova survived that set point with a game, rally-ending volley. But then Williams blew a forehand serve return right by Shvedova and converted the ensuing set point with a backhand blast down the line.

That set had taken longer than most of Williams’s matches (1:11), and the ending had to be dispiriting for Shvedova. It certainly looked that way when she was broken in the first game of the second set.

But that’s precisely when that quality that so irritates her betters kicked in again. Shvedova began to play like a house on fire, ultimately scoring a break for 1-all.

Two fast holds ensued, and Williams turned up the heat in the next, fifth game. Shvedova had a point to hold, but a service-return winner and a savage smash created another break opportunity for Williams. She unleashed a furious series of groundstrokes then, but Shvedova held her ground with admirable resolve. She took those shots on the rise, sometimes with just enough time to poke rather than swing at the ball. But after an exchange of six or seven shots Williams ended it with a forehand winner to take a 3-2 lead.

That proved to be the spirit breaker. Shvedova, confessing to her on-court coach that she was “tired,” played sloppy tennis thereafter, and failed to win another game.

There’s a reason Shvedova was able to win a rare, “golden set” a few years back at Wimbledon, but there’s also a reason Williams wins the vast majority of her matches against such dangerous players. Put the former down to a potent marriage of skill and power, and the latter down to poise and self-assurance, both of which are worth their weight in gold.

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