By Jonathan Newman
Venus Williams, donning an atypical white baseball cap, led from start to finish as she blitzed past Alison Riske 6-2 6-0 in her opening match in Cincinnati. Williams served with intent from the first ball. The four points she won to take the opening game came on first serves clocking 109, 110, 105, and the last a 108 mph ace out wide to Riske's backhand. Despite Venus' quick 2-0 lead, Riske was playing well, and fought back to tie the match at two games apiece. Game on.
Or so we thought. The pivotal moment of the match came with Riske facing break point at 2-3; after a prolonged, intense rally, Riske seemed to wrest control of the point when she lured Venus into the net with a stealthy drop shot. Instead, Venus sprinted forward and with one last audible thud of her right foot, pelted a cross court forehand winner to seal the decisive break. The crowd roared as Venus made her way back to the service line with a 4-2 lead. Riske would not win another game.
Yes, Venus Williams is 37 years old. But, like she did in making the finals of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, Venus showed that she still cuts a fierce and intimidating figure as weekly contender, regardless of age. At 2-5, and having played well to that point, Riske called her coach to the court; what could she possibly do to stem the Venus tide? Her main failure to that point was to protect her second serve: up to 2-5 and 30-all, Riske had yet to win a point when made to serve twice. Venus would go on to win the first set 6-2 and win eight of nine points on Riske's second serve.
The last glimmer of an opening for Riske came in the third game of the second set with Venus serving at 2-0, 15-30. But, Venus summoned another of her seven aces to stifle that opportunity, and her subsequent break for 4-0 sealed it shut. All told, Williams broke Riske six times, while losing her own serve just once. Her first serve, of which she lost only four points, was the fortress that kept Riske at bay.
With the match at just a touch over an hour, Venus fired one final forehand winner to seal the win 6-2 6-0. It was, in short, one of the cleanest and most efficient performances you will see from Venus Williams, her serve and groundstrokes working together like a well-oiled machine. She improves her record against Riske to 3-0, all straight-set victories in the last 18 months. Up next, Williams will face Ashleigh Barty, 21, in their first ever meeting. Barty, a qualifier ranked 48th in the world, defeated Varvara Lepchenko 6-4 6-4 on Tuesday.