By Jonathan Newman
MASON, Ohio -- Venus Williams was the first woman into the third round at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati when she defeated the defending champion, Kiki Bertens, 6-3 3-6 7-6 on Tuesday afternoon. For the seven-time Slam champion, the win was just her second over a top-10 ranked opponent all season, and signaled that the American was rounding into form at the right time ahead of the U.S. Open.
Still, Williams was hesitant to place too much importance on the win, even though she entered Cincinnati having lost three consecutive first round matches.
“It was just a second round, though,” Williams said. “For me, it's just round by round. I have a third round to play. To be honest, every player I play plays amazing. She was no less than that.”
Her opponent, world no. 5 Kiki Bertens, was the defending champion at the Western and Southern Open. The two had played two prior matches, both eventually decided in three sets. Today was no different. Williams raced to an early lead, playing as good a set of tennis as she has all year to secure the first set 6-3. Bertens, for her part, found a groove at the start of the second, sprinting to a 4-0 lead before Williams recouped both breaks to get back on serve at 3-4. The pair was destined to play another three-set match, as Bertens broke back immediately before taking the set 6-3.
Since making the quarterfinals in Birmingham in June, Williams lost in the first round to Coco Gauff at Wimbledon, then fell to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in San Jose and Carla Suarez Navarro last week in Toronto. When asked about her string of losses, Williams said she “didn't really think about that,” and that she was “just trying to win today and try to win tomorrow and the day after.” She added, “At the end of the day, you have to work hard and someone has to win and someone has to lose. I try to be the one that wins. When it doesn't, you just work, just go and work at it.”
Without her typical amount of matchplay under her belt, Williams has been spending extra time on the practice courts working on reining in her trademark power. She desires more control over what she’s doing on court, and to play more smartly:
“I just tried not to go too big, because I can go so big and I have a lot of power and it's not always easy to control it. So I'm trying to play smart instead of going hog wild, which is extremely easy to do.”
Williams was not “hog wild” for most of the third set, leading comfortably after saving break point in the opening game. Up 5-2, Venus earned an opportunity to serve out the match at 5-3 following a Bertens hold of serve. The defending champion broke back and then held to level the match at five games apiece. After losing her 5-2 lead and finding herself in a third-set tiebreak, Williams found the clarity that she has been in search of, speeding to a 6-2 lead, before closing out the match on her third attempt.
When asked how she copes with finding the joy in tennis when things aren’t going so well, Venus offered, “I think that when you lose it's not fun, but . . . it's not a moment that's not joyful. It's just -- I can't think of anyone, I hope, that enjoys losing, so I think it's just a moment of trying to find clarity when things get quite muddled.”
Things look much clearer and less muddled for Venus Williams through her first two matches in Cincinnati. Up next for her is the winner of tomorrow’s second round match between Victoria Azarenka and Donna Vekic. Venus owns a 5-2 head-to-head lead over Azarenka, winning their most recent encounter this January in Auckland. Meanwhile, the only meeting between Williams and Vekic saw a straight sets win for the American at Wimbledon in 2016.