Despite at first seeming taken aback by Kurumi Nara's meticulous play, Venus Williams gathered her strength to stride confidently through to the third round.
It would seem that the reports of Williams’s demise have been exaggerated. At the age of 33 and suffering from Sjorgen’s Syndrome, she is supposed to be a spent force, past it, consigned to history. But you write off Venus at your peril. The former champion has no intention of going anywhere for a very long time to come.
She moved impressively into the third round with a 7-6, 6-1 win over the diminutive Kurumi Nara on Wednesday, the world No.41 from Japan, and much as a couple of wins does not constitute a championship-winning run, she clearly has plans to stay in town for a while. She served well enough, she hit 46 winners, she kept the error count down to a respectable 16 and she bossed the show once the first set was done.
Back in 2011, Venus revealed that she had been diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that leaves the sufferer with a range of symptoms from a dry mouth to joint pain and chronic fatigue. Yet, through diet, careful management of her schedule and grim determination not to be beaten, she has found a way to compete at the top level despite everything. There are still good days and bad days, but Venus will not give in. And as she pushed Nara this way and that on No.3 Court, it was the Japanese who was struggling physically, not Venus.
It did appear that Venus was running the legs off her opponent – and that really did not seem fair as they were not very big legs to begin with. Before anyone starts complaining about gratuitous short jokes, it was the lack of height that was causing the problems. This is a serious tennis point.
Nara is a tiny but perfectly formed 5ft 1ins short and weighs in at 116lbs. Venus is a full foot taller at 6ft 1ins and she weighs in at 160lbs, most of it leg and muscle. In boxing terms, that is like a flyweight taking on a light-middle weight – and even in the more brutal world of pugilism, that would simply not be allowed.
Unable to out-hit her predominantly taller foes (she is the shortest player in the world’s top 100), Nara has to rely on craft, skill and pinpoint accuracy if she is to have a chance. And, meticulous in everything she does, from practice to preparation to play, she whittles away at her opponent’s defences with care and precision. The trouble is, that gives her almost no margin for error, as Venus discovered after a slightly shaky start.
There is an old wives’ tale that elephants are terrified of mice, and it is true that most larger animals are not fond of tiny beasts scampering around their ankles. It is neither right nor proper to compare the five-time Wimbledon champion to an elephant but, even so, it was quite clear in the opening games that the tall and powerful Venus was having a torrid time getting used to the neat and methodical Nara nipping about the baseline in front of her.
Three games had gone to Japan before Venus realised what was going on and started to hit the ball a little harder, a little deeper and within the confines of the court. That helped enormously. Flexing her muscles, she dragged herself back into the fight and then started to throw her weight around. She broke. She took the lead. She went to serve for the opening set. And then she fluffed it. That was not supposed to happen.
The tie-break was not going particularly well, either, as the former champion found herself 4-1 down but then, in that way that champions do, she won the next six points and wrapped up the set. Taking that as her starting point, she did exactly the same thing in the second set. From dropping her serve in the opening game (her rhythm had been disrupted by a long injury time-out as Nara left the court to have her left thigh strapped), she went on to win the next six games and cruise into the third round.
“The tie-break,” Venus mused, “that’s when it comes down to who is more consistent and aggressive. In the beginning that was her but I managed to turn it around in the tie-break.”
As for the future, Venus was adamant. Nothing, not a disease, not a syndrome and not another birthday, was going to stop her.
“I feel like I am still a great tennis player,” she said earlier this year. “When I’m ready to go, I’ll go.”
But clearly not just yet.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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