Thunderbolts from Venus clearing path towards final
Williams takes full advantage of her rivals' misfortune with clinical defeat of Martinez
Sunday 29 June 2008
Three rounds gone and the defending champion is motoring nicely. Venus Williams has yet to drop a set and has conceded a mere 20 games in manoeuvring herself into Wimbledon's second week. So far the progress has more closely resembled perambulator than juggernaut, but that is not the fault of Venus. She is simply required to beat whoever is put in front of her and so far the fare has been ordinary indeed.
She started against a pair of Brits, hardly the stuff of nightmares, and the lengthily monikered 25-year-old from Barcelona – Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, a 6-1 7-5 victim in an hour and 12 minutes – proved more tethered goat than tigress, especially in an embarrassingly one-sided opening set in which the frame of the Spaniard's racket made more contact with the Venus thunderbolts than the strings.
As the games ticked up against her, the left-handed Martinez opted for a few drop shots in a bid to break the Williams rhythm, but Venus is a very fleet-footed 28-year-old and such efforts were generally run down and swatted away. The first set was over in 25 minutes, to the dismay of a packed Court One on a lovely summer afternoon.
It was much to the credit of Martinez that, in the end, she managed to make a much more entertaining contest of it by opting to serve and volley behind a not-too-intimidating serve. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but it changed the whole tempo of the match.
Even so, at 4-2 in the second set Venus appeared to be coasting. Then Martinez held to love for the first time and, lifted by the roar of encouragement, not only conjured her first break point of the match but seized it with a perfectly timed half-volley to level the set at 4-4.
With the alarm bells whirring, Venus upped her level of commitment and power. The noise of those of her serves which struck the net tape reverberated around the stadium like a rifle shot. As for the ones which went in, Martinez still struggled to cope. She did hold to lead 5-4, fighting off four Williams break points as she charged into the cannon's mouth, standing up bravely at the net to take whatever Venus threw at her.
It could not work for long and Venus, thumping her returns and crashing down her serves, swept the next three games, closing out the Spaniard's day with successive aces, her 10th and 11th, before acknowledging the applause and offering a special wiggly-fingered wave in the direction of her team in the players' box.
The match-winning ace was recorded by the courtside speed gun at 127 miles per hour, 2mph short of the world record she set at the US Open last year. "Yeah, 127's a good way to end it," she said afterwards, claiming that it is such power which keeps her from being just an average player. "The power, with my movement and my strikes, adds a ton to my game. It's a real blessing. But I'm never trying to serve that hard, if that makes any sense. It just comes big. It's just how I serve. It's just me."
The draw is opening up conveniently for Venus, with seeds such as Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, Daniela Hantuchova and Vera Zvonareva plucked out of her path by obliging opponents or by injury.
Though the biggest potential block in her path towards the semi-finals, the second seed Jelena Jankovic, came through a three-set test on Centre Court, she too needed lengthy treatment to her left leg. Venus bridled slightly at the suggestion others were helping to clear the way for her towards retention of the Venus Rosewater Dish. "Well, the chances were wonderful from the beginning, from Round One. That's how [Serena and I] see it. All I know is that I am focused on my next round."
That next round, the fourth, which will be played tomorrow, will be against an 18-year-old Russian, Alisa Kleybanova, ranked 42. It was Kleybanova who removed Hantuchova from Venus' path.
Venus is sympathetic to such as Jankovic, having suffered multiple injury problems in her own career. "Injuries are the worst thing in anyone's career," she said, "worse than the travel and the tough losses. My challenge in my career has been my injuries, my major problem. It has not always been easy coming back, sometimes it's not even easy figuring out what is wrong. So that has been challenging. I'm just praying. I want to be healthy. So that way if I lose. it wasn't because I was unhealthy.
"Injuries are the toughest thing because it's out of your control. I have learned. In the past I had the tendency to practise until it hurt too much to continue but now if it starts hurting, I stop. I'm getting wiser."
And also closer to her fifth Wimbledon title.
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