Sunday, May 23, 2010

Venus Williams Create A Straight-Set Win At French Open

Tennis superstar Venus Williams beat Patty Schnyder for the second time this month on clay, opening Sunday at the French Open with a 6- 3, 6-3 win, as holder Svetlana Kuznetsova pulled her clay game together to advance. With a lacy, black overlay giving it the illusion of being see-through, and bright red trim on the bodice, Venus Williams' corset-like get-up made her look as if she were ready to perform in a 19th century Parisian cancan chorus line. Her tennis game, a mix of power and niftier-than-usual footwork on this day, was very 21st century, and befitting a star of the show.

Venus Williams explained that her look was "about illusion," which, she noted, is "a lot of my motif this year" when it comes to clothes design. She also said she might not wear that particular dress again on court. Then again, perhaps she will. She's not sure. Either way, Venus Williams comes to a tournament with eight to 10 outfits, just in case the victories keep coming. 

Venus Williams, newly promoted back to second in the world, followed up her defeat of the veteran Swiss early this month in Rome. The American player overcame 21 unforced errors, breaking six times to make the difference. Kuznetsova steadied after losing the first three games to emerge with a face-saving first-round win, defeating Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 6-1.

The Russian sixth seed came to the court with just one clay victory this season from a sparse four matches. The seed advanced on her second match point against No. 34 Cirstea, a quarter-finalist a year ago. She will next play German Andrea Petkovic, a winner over Russian Elena Vesnina 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

"Definitely I was a little bit nervous in the start, and it was rough start for me, but I'm very happy about it," said the relieved Russian.

"I managed to come back and fight for every single game. It didn't matter if I was down 0-40 or 15-40, whatever was it. I was just playing as many balls back as I could. The first two matches are very important, so the second match is gonna be very hard mentally."

Venus Williams' only real problems came at the very end against Patty Schnyder, who fell to 0-11 against the American but certainly is no slouch, particularly on clay. The 31-year-old lefty from Switzerland has been a Grand Slam semifinalist, has been ranked No. 7, and leads active women in career clay-court victories.

She forced Venus Williams to fend off three break points in the final game, and also made her accumulate four match points before finally ending things with a forehand winner.

"It's just too tough to really play good, and then on top of that, to beat her," Patty Schnyder said. "She has a great answer to my lefty serve, she has the backhand down the line, which hurts me a lot, and she's a great mover."

That last part hasn't always been the case on clay, but the 29-year-old Williams had neither of her sometimes-bothersome knees wrapped Sunday. She covered the court quite well, both side-to-side and moving forward, which helped her win 12 of 14 points at the net.

It's part of a resurgence on the slow surface this season for Venus Williams: She is 13-2 on clay.

"Look at her results," Patty Schnyder said. "She's coming into the tournament playing good clay-court matches, winning clay-court matches."

And she's dressed for success, you might say.

And she plans a lengthy stay in Paris this time around, perhaps capped by a title.

"I always — goes without saying — believe I can win," said Venus Williams, whose biggest hitches Sunday were eight double-faults.

Venus Williams lost in the third round at each of the past three French Opens and only once has been beyond the quarterfinals in 13 previous trips: She lost to younger sister Serena in the 2002 final. Still, Venus' hitting partner, David Witt, said after Sunday's victory: "If she goes out there and is smart and plays smart tennis, I think she can win the tournament."

There are others who will have some say in that, of course, including defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also won in straight sets Sunday, and the top-ranked Serena, whose first-round match is Monday. Venus  Williams is back at No. 2 in the rankings for the first time since May 2003, and was not shy about saying she wants to bump her sister off the top spot.

"It feels good to be moving up the ranks. Obviously, when you get to 2, of course, the next dream is 1," Venus Williams said.

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