Venus Williams proves her mettle
NEW YORK -- All summer long, Venus Williams' goal has been endurance. So you could see it on her face as the points lengthened; the last place she wanted to be against Zheng Jie in their second-round US Open match was staring down the barrel of a third set after using 92 precious minutes just to get there.
And she was just halfway to the finish line.
There was no lack of fight between the two unseeded players -- but the conditions did not favor the 33-year-old Williams. Finally in a third-set tiebreak, the momentum swinging her way at 5-5, Williams sent a gift-wrapped volley straight into the net and fell over with the effort. She had brought up match point with the error, and with that went the match to Zheng 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5).
"I didn't realize the clock was three hours until the end," Williams said. "I was like, wow, this is a marathon."
At 3 hours and 2 minutes, it was the fifth-longest women's match in US Open history. You can just add it to the list of US Open milestones for Williams. Her name is etched on the many championship lists on the grounds, next to the years 2000 and 2001. It has been 17 seasons since her first US Open in 1997, and the past two have included some health issues, among them a diagnosis of the fatiguing Sjogren's syndrome.
"You know, I've been dealt some cards that aren't as easy to deal with, but I have to play with them," Williams said. "You know, the last few months haven't been easy, coming back from the back injury, one of the more challenging injuries I've dealt with. I feel like it's definitely affected my game, but I'm working on it.
"I'm a fighter, you know."
And that was what she showed. Hitting partner David Witt said they had been working on recovering her endurance through the injuries, and Venus was focused enough to play some fearsome tennis even as the third set reached a crescendo. It's a good sign for Williams, although perhaps not as obvious as a Tiffany trophy.
She will play doubles on Thursday with Serena, and singles in the Asian slate of tournaments this fall. There, she has entered more than she usually does so that she can get the volume of matches her body needs to get stronger. It's the opposite of retirement.
"If I didn't think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn't be here," Williams said firmly. "So I feel like I do, and that's why I'm here."
Earlier in the day, rain had bumped her 1 p.m. match out of the afternoon session. The only reason she was kept on the list of scheduled matches was that she had barely gotten underway when the rain arrived. So as her sister Serena Williams, whose match was scheduled to start later, was able to go home as her second-round contest was canceled, Venus waited out the rain.
That may have been why Zheng and Williams opted to stay out as the drizzle arrived in the third set. All over the grounds play temporarily stopped, but after a changeover down 5-4, Williams paced to the baseline to serve.
The crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium certainly wanted her to win. Williams needed short points, short games and that is not what she got. Zheng blunted her power and lured Williams into games that found deuce again and again.
Even as a problem with her toss sapped the effectiveness from her first serve, Williams fought through it. But her game was as temperamental as the rain. Williams, who has won the US Open twice, had 44 unforced errors to Zheng's 31.
Frankly, her first-round win over No. 12 Kirsten Flipkens was an upset in a few ways. Williams had won just once in her past four tournaments, and had recently lost to Flipkens as well. Williams won that match in two sets, limiting the drawn-out games to just one late in the second set.
"I definitely wish I was playing in the third round," Williams said. "But it's not to be for me this year."