Venus struggles for form that made a goddess

Venus Williams' most graceful, expressive sequence yesterday was her victory pirouette. One moment she was scrapping, dour-faced, even slightly weary, which is how she looked through much of her 6-2, 6-4 first-round win over Eva Birnerova. The next, after the 20-year-old Czech plonked another shot long, she was a ballerina on a jewellery box, a twirling smile. The only thing missing was a tinkly "Fur Elise".

The concern for Venus - the queen of the lawns here in 2000 and 2001, before her younger sister, Serena, reigned in 2002 and 2003 - is that her game, if not quite out of tune, is far from hitting the high notes. Her serve was hard (rising to 118mph) and functional (she won 67 per cent of service points). But it fell short of the brutality of old.

Her movement was fine, by most players' standards. But by the heights of her own, it looked somewhat slow, lacking fluidity.

"Today was a little strange because she was always playing me up the middle," she explained.

"Then the ball's bouncing strange. I have long arms and legs. When the ball gets close to me, I'm not able to move forward because I have to get out of my own way."

That might be true, but it was not the kind of thing she was saying often, if at all, five years ago. Nor, then, was she making so many errors. There were plenty yesterday, 10 unforced, including several overhit drives, a couple of routine volleys that ended up in the net and one shank that propelled the ball towards the Court 2 crowd.

Venus won in the end, however, because she was still simply better than her opponent, the world No 111 who secured a main-draw place as a lucky loser from the qualifying tournament at Roehampton.

The first set was seized through superior power. The second was wrestled from Birnerova, who even threatened a comeback after breaking Williams in the ninth game to trail only 4-5 before throwing away her serve and the match.

A win is a win. That was the subtext of Venus's post-match analysis.

"Everything went well," she said. "That felt good to me. I got to hit a lot of balls. It was sunny. That was nice."

But there was little spark, and when she was asked about a potential fourth-round meeting with her sister, the tone of her response indicated that she was not counting her chickens.

"Is that match looming large?" she was asked. "No," she said. "Couple of matches away still."

Last year Venus made a controversial second-round exit to Karolina Sprem after a match including an umpiring error that handed Sprem an unwarranted point. Venus, who next faces Nicole Pratt of Australia, insisted yesterday that she had not dwelt on that.

"You can't change the past," she said. "You can just try to learn from it."

As she was talking, Serena was waiting to start her own first-round match, against another minnow, her compatriot Angela Haynes. Venus last played Serena in March, in Miami, beating her for the first time in four years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project