Venus Williams Happy To Play Well In Season Opener

Venus Williams (photo: Tennis Australia)

WASHINGTON, January 31, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Sunday’s opening day of the Yarra Valley Classic and the Gippsland Trophy, a pair of side-by-side WTA 500-series tournaments kicking off the Australian Summer Series, provided fans lucky enough to attend as well as a worldwide TV audience with plenty of tennis to whet their appetites. Between the two events, there was a total of 32 singles and eight doubles matches that were played. By the end of the day, five American women led by future Hall of Famer Venus Williams had advanced to the next round.

There was a lot of focus on the 40-year-old Williams, currently ranked 74th, who defeated No. 80 Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-3 in 62 minutes in the final match on Margaret Court Arena. After all, the legend of the sport arrived in Melbourne with a Hall of Fame C.V., including: seven major singles titles, 11 weeks at World No. 1, 49 singles titles overall and four Olympic gold medals.

Although Williams was playing in just her first match since Roland Garros last fall, she was energized by the crowd – hitting 18 winners against 18 unforced errors – and it was good enough to advance her to the second round against World No. 9 and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. She saved all seven break points she faced while breaking Rus four times in seven tries. Williams outpointed her opponent 63-41.

“It was great to get back on the court. It’s been quite a few months,” said Williams. “Definitely not easy to play the first one. Still finding your footing. As you know, it’s a sprint out here on the WTA. Everyone is super talented. I was really happy to play pretty well.”

Williams was asked about the atmosphere of playing in front of a crowd again during her post-match press conference. She said: “Yeah, it was nice to have a crowd (smiling). I think it’s just going to continue … but, yeah, you spend a lot of time training so it feels good to execute your shots in the match.

“It’s amazing. Really, the whole process of making this happen was really huge, to say the least. Like I said on the court, I was really grateful for Tennis Australia, I’m grateful to be here, and I want to try to enjoy the moment while I compete well and I’m happy so far that it’s been done in a way that everyone is healthy. So far, so good. Just excited.”

Joining Williams in the second round of the Yarra Valley Classic from the United States are Shelby Rogers, Danielle Collins and Jessica Pegula. From the Gippsland Trophy, American Caty McNally advanced with a 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3 win over Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.

The two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Rogers took out No. 12 seed Fiona Ferro of France, 6-2, 7-5. After winning 16 of the first 17 points of the match to jump ahead 4-0, she later rallied from down 1-5 in the second set – without ever having to save a set point – to secure her victory.

World No. 46 Collins, who is seeded 13th in the Yarra Valley Classic, began the day with a 75-minute victory over Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium, 6-3, 6-3. She broke her opponent twice in each set to move on. Collins is hoping to find the spark in her game that lifted her to a semifinal finish in the 2019 Australian Open.

Other Yarra Valley Classic winners included: No. 16 seed Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic, who beat Samantha Stosur of Australia, 6-2, 6-0, by taking advantage of five service breaks. Stosur, 36, who became a first-time mother last year, was playing her first competitive match in over a year.

Other Gippsland Trophy winners included: No. 12 seed Caroline Garcia of France defeated 169th-ranked Australian wild card Arina Rodionova, 6-3, 6-4; No. 13 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced over Sara Errani of Italy, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1; and No. 15 seed Polona Hercog of Slovenia beat Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. No. 11 seed Zheng Saisai of China was upset by Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

During an on-court, post-match interview, the former World No. 4 Garcia, who is now ranked 44th, said: “It was a lot of emotions to get back on court, finally. I tried to stay very calm and play one point at a time, and I think I improved during the match. So, that’s the most positive thing about today.”

Yarra Valley Classic results

Gippsland Trophy results

News & noteworthy

• Germany’s oft-injured Andrea Petkovic, once a Top 10 player, reached the second round of the Gippsland Trophy with her first WTA main-draw match win in 15 months. She beat Martina Trevisan of Italy, 6-1, 3-6, 7-5. The last time Petkovic won was in October 2019 in Luxembourg over Camila Giorgi. She played just once in 2020, losing to Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round of the French Open. Next, Petkovic will face No. .3 seed Elina Svitolina on Monday.

• Venus Williams was asked during her post-match press conference what it is that she loves about coming to Australia, where she’s 53-20 lifetime in the Australian Open, including reaching two finals: “I just love Australia. So, first of all, I just like being here. I never leave early. I usually always hang around after, you know, if it’s not the result I wanted. So, I just enjoy myself. But of course, it’s a major and the big challenge of playing the Australian [Open] is you just have to start at a sprint. I just don’t know that many sports where the first and second tournament you play you have to play a major event.

“Tennis is probably the most challenging sport on the planet in that sense. Yeah, that definitely makes it very special to be able to start out on the right foot at the beginning.”

• One of the more interesting quarantine training duos consisted of World No. 5 Elina Svitolina and French Open champion Iga Swiatek. Svitolina was asked about it during her pre-tournament press conference: “It’s been good preparation. To be fair, [I] cannot complain about anything. It was [a] really nice time outside. We had a great time. Really enjoyed our company. Was quite fun.

“[I] was pleased with my preparation. Now is a little bit different with all the people that are out. You feel a little bit strange at first, but in the end I’m really happy that everything went quite smooth.”