Aging gracefully, Venus Williams might be playing the smartest tennis of her career

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Venus Williams defeated Laura Siegemund in straight sets to advance to the fourth round. (AP)  

NEW YORK—How, at 36, is Venus Williams playing some of the best tennis of her life? Because she’s still able to cover the court, and hit to all parts of it, like players 15 years her junior. The difference is that, while those young’uns do so by physically traversing the hard, unforgiving surface, Williams lets her racquet do the heavy lifting. That’s not to say that Williams is weakened in this late stage of her career, Sjogren's syndrome notwithstanding, but she may be playing smarter than ever before.

Laura Siegemund, the 28-year-old 26th seed at the U.S. Open, surely knew the challenge Williams presented even though the two had never before played. On Saturday night, she got firsthand confirmation. Siegemund was under siege all night, making scant inroads on Williams’ serve (the American won 73 percent of her first serves) or during rallies. She even traveled 266 more feet than Williams; “distance covered” is actually a recorded stat

After dropping the first two games, the German broke to get the third-round contest back on serve. It was her first and essentially last stand. Williams claimed this 6-1, 6-2 contest in 1:18 with a barrage of wide serves, imposing returns and precisely executed ground strokes. Her two-handed backhand was as devastating as her lethal forehand, and she turned what could have potentially been a brutal baseline battle—Siegemund, at her best, reminds me of the talented Dominika Cibulkova—into an all-court exercise in authority and accuracy. Advantage Williams, who won 69 points to Siegemund’s 44.

The crowd favorite capped off her impressive victory with a break from 0-40 down, followed by a drama-free service hold.

“It was nice to win in straight sets,” said Williams, who will play 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round.

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