Irresistible Venus maintains the ascendancy

Ronald Atkin finds Wimbledon champion is in title mood again

The streak goes on. Venus Williams, champion of Wimbledon and all she surveys, clocked up her 22nd consecutive win and moved into the fourth round of the US Open, though she was made to work harder than expected before overcoming her fellow American Meghann Shaughnessy 7-6 6-1.

The streak goes on. Venus Williams, champion of Wimbledon and all she surveys, clocked up her 22nd consecutive win and moved into the fourth round of the US Open, though she was made to work harder than expected before overcoming her fellow American Meghann Shaughnessy 7-6 6-1.

Having trailed 3-0 to the 21-year-old from Arizona, Williams was forced to work hard to take the opening set into a tie-break. But once over that hurdle, she made short work of the second. The first set lasted an hour; the second was all over in 22 minutes.

Shaughnessy, ranked 48th, went on court with a strategy, presumably implanted by her exotically named coach, Rafael Font de Mora. It was to hit the ball harder at Venus than she hits it at other people, and for a while it worked so well that she went 3-0 up in the opening set and served for it at 5-3. She broke the Williams serve three times and only failed to take the set, and possibly to achieve the best win of her career, because her serve was not as accurate as the rest of her game.

Hitting hard and flat and deep, Shaughnessy savaged the Williams serve whenever it failed to land deep. On a close night with the humidity registering 90 per cent and storms in the vicinity, Venus soon soaked her bright orange dress with sweat as she careered around the court attempting to extinguish the storm her opponent was creating.

When Shaughnessy broke the Williams serve for a third time to go 5-3 ahead the set was clearly there for the taking but the Venus counter-attack was vicious and irresistible. When it got to the tie-break, though, Venus again permitted heropponent some daylight by double-faulting twice in succession, her fourth and fifth of the match. But the balance swung at once as the Wimbledon heroine swept six of the next seven points to capture the first set and then ran up a 3-0 lead in the second, winning the match with only her third ace.

The six double-faults she perpetrated provided the only cloud on the Williams horizon. "I couldn't stop hitting serves in the net, but after those two in the tie-break I pretty well got over it." Venus denied that finding herself trailing 3-0 had been a wake-up call. "She played well to get that lead, it's not like I gave it to her. She hit some nice shots, she had nice strategy. You expect people to come and play well, especially in a Grand Slam. But the only time she generated power was when I gave her power, so I decided not to feed her too much."

It is likely more will be heard of Shaughnessy, who also ran Monica Seles close a month ago. She certainly isn't deficient in the confidence department, saying: "When I play well I can stay with players like Venus. It is just a matter of believing I can win and then I will."

And what, we wondered, had winning Wimbledon done for the Williams confidence? "Oh, I was pretty confident before that," Venus said, reminding assembled media that her winning streak is now the longest in the women's game this year. "That's nice, I think it's gonna be pretty hard for anybody to break that this year. I feel that on the big points, in the big situations, I'm at an advantage. I'm not gonna back down or make mistakes for no reason at all, as I might have done in the past." Except, she might have added, when hitting double-faults.

"In order to win a Grand Slam a lot of things have to start before that. So it's not like all of a sudden I won Wimbledon. I started working hard before. And now it's mine. It's a matter of stepping up at the right time, being willing to step up."

Then Venus asked who she faces next in the fourth round. Magui Serna of Spain, she was told, and commented: "I would prefer to play a higher-ranked player but you can't pick the draw."

The fact that all in the garden of Venus is not perfect was the binding she was wearing on her left wrist. "It is something I have to do before I play, or else..." she said. The legacy of that debilitating injury to both wrists earlier this year has not yet been banished but at the moment it doesn't seem to matter. The likes of Magui Serna are not likely to cause pain or much delay to someone so obviously in pursuit of a second successive Grand Slam.

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