Venus Williams won her first Grand Slam title, at Wimbledon in 2000, when Belinda Bencic was three years old. Now, a month shy of her 34th birthday, Williams is merely twice the age of the 17-year-old Swiss. But it was Venus’ experience, rather than her age, that showed in her surprisingly routine 6-4, 6-1 win over the 2013 French Open junior champion.
Bencic is still ranked just 81st, but her match with the seven-time Grand Slam champion had promised to be a highlight of the first round at Roland Garros. Williams was coming off an early loss in Rome, while Bencic has been gaining ground steadily this year. And through most of the first set, there wasn't much between the two women. Bencic’s power and depth were a match for Venus’, and the two women traded early breaks.
But when Bencic gave back her break at 3-2 after missing an overhead, the momentum swung in Venus’ direction, and an increasingly frustrated Bencic could never swing it back. With Venus serving at 5-3, Bencic used her speed and ball-striking talent to save two set points. Then, in the following game, she showed off how raw that talent still is by framing a volley wide to give Williams another set point. Venus pounced on a mediocre second serve and never looked back.
Seventeen minutes later, Williams was up a set and 4-0. We’ve seen a lot of positives from Bencic this year—power, ball-striking ability, persistence—but today some of the unpolished elements of her game were exposed. She ran through and rushed her strokes, barely stopping to get turned, and she struggled to find the balance between pulling the trigger when the opening when was there, and holding back when it wasn’t. Bencic finished with just eight winners against 18 unforced errors.
By the end, Venus, whose game sharpened as the match went on, had more winners (21) than she did errors (20), which isn’t a bad ratio for her on clay. And she saved the best for last. Down 15-40 at 5-1, Williams played four methodically aggressive points to put the match away. Hopefully, Bencic learned from watching. Venus will move on to try to give another teenager, Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia, a lesson in the second round.