Venus Williams powered into Wimbledon's fourth round yesterday, quickly recovering from an early break of serve and never especially troubled in beating the 20-year-old Russian Alisa Kleybanova 6-4 6-2.
However, it's rare that the older Williams sister is matched for formidable physique on the court. The Muscovite's father, Mikhail Kleybanov, used to work for the Institute of Steel and Alloys, and has produced a hard nut of a daughter. Broad of shoulder and thunderous of thigh, she hits her groundstrokes almost as hard as Venus, and will surely take a few notable scalps over the next few years, adding to that of Daniela Hantuchova, whom she beat here in 2008 before losing to Williams in the fourth round.
Kleybanova, ranked 27th in the world and also seeded 27 here, considers grass to be her best and favourite surface, although it was on clay, in last year's Madrid Open, that (in their only other previous meeting) she beat Williams in three sets. She rarely looked like repeating this feat on a sweltering Court One yesterday, although she did have the effrontery, at 1-4 in the second set, to take a 0-40 lead against the big Williams serve. It was a game she eventually won, although not before Venus, the No 2 seed, had thumped her way back to deuce, revving herself up with some shrieks that in the still south-west London air must have carried half-way to Wimbledon Village.
When she plays like this, routinely hitting 120mph serves and rarely straying more than a yard from the baseline, Venus is still one of the most impressive sights – and sounds – in the women's game. At 30 the five-times singles champion, making her 14th Wimbledon appearance, counts as superannuated in women's tennis, but it would be a brave or possibly reckless punter who backed her to fall short of yet another final against her sister, the top-seeded Serena. Her only significant problem yesterday was with her service toss, which she was forced to catch four or five times, rather evoking Wimbledon's other famous VW, Virginia Wade, who was the worst tosser of the lot.
It isn't often that a show-court crowd gets frustrated with Venus, who has acquired treasured status at the All England Club, but by the last misdirected toss there was one of those low murmurs of disapproval at which Wimbledon audiences specialise. They specialise too in resourceful ways of keeping cool in what at times was truly fierce sunshine, draping shirts and flags over heads and deploying newspapers, magazines and programmes as makeshift fans, although there were also plenty of people flapping proper fans, almost certainly purchased from an entrepreneurial woman who has set up a stall on the long, sweaty walk from Southfields tube station. Derek "Del Boy" Trotter, Peckham market trader – whose old mucker Trigger, otherwise known as actor Roger Lloyd Pack, was in the Court One crowd – would be proud of her.
As for Venus, she declared after the match that she was feeling proud of herself. Asked whether she sometimes has to slap herself at the realisation that she and Serena are still here as the top two seeds, she said: "No, not really, because I work really hard year in and year out. If I was just relaxing, then I probably would be pretty surprised if I was here. But ... I'm just blessed to be, you know, healthy enough and strong enough, and still talented enough to play."
Of that there is no doubt whatever, and it's hard to imagine her struggling too much against her next opponent Jarmila Groth, although of course she was far too savvy to admit it. "I played her before when she had a different last name," she said of Groth, a 23-year-old originally from Bratislava who married Australian player Samuel Groth last year, and now has Australian citizenship. "It's been a while. But I know that she definitely likes to go out there and hit the ball hard. She's talented."
Groth, who was born Jarmila Gajdosova, is the daughter of a former Slovakian football international making her fourth consecutive appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam. Otherwise she is noteworthy for hitting two-handed on both backhand and forehand side. But however she hits the ball, it will almost certainly have to be very hard and very accurate if Venus is not to sail on into the last eight.
Elsewhere, the No 3 seed Jelena Jankovic – conqueror of Britain's Laura Robson on the first day – made even more straightforward progress, beating the Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko 6-0, 6-3. Strangely, it was the third time in three consecutive Grand Slams that they have met in the third round.Reuse content