Venus Williams proving a force at 2017 French Open despite ordinary recent record in Paris

Ahmed Rizvi offers his thoughts on Venus Williams's impressive win over Kurumi Nara in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday.
Venus Williams was in ominous form during her French Open second round win over Kurumi Nara on Wednesday. Eric Feferberg / AFP
Venus Williams was in ominous form during her French Open second round win over Kurumi Nara on Wednesday. Eric Feferberg / AFP

Remember Maria Sharapova’s “feel like a cow on ice” description of herself at the 2007 French Open?

If you were to look at Venus Williams’s record at Roland Garros since the last of her quarter-final appearances in 2006, you might think the seven-time grand slam champion would have something similar to say about her performance on clay courts over the past decade.

Seven of her past nine visits to the French Open have ended in the third round or earlier, with two exits in the first round, two in the second and three in third, and twice she has reached the fourth round.

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Those stats are nothing to gloat about, but you if you think Williams feels anything close to a “cow on ice” on clay, perish the thought. Or just watch the highlight reels of her 6-4, 6-1 second round demolition of Kurumi Nara on the Philippe-Chatrier Court on Wednesday.

Down 1-3 in the first set, Williams, who will celebrate her 37th birthday on June 17, switched gears, winning the next eight games, blowing her opponent off the court with some ruthless shot-making.

If she can hit like that, who cares about the movement, right? With sister Serena Williams watching from the stands, Williams did move pretty well. Not as well as a “Bambi on clay” that Sharapova later transformed into, but Williams did look pretty adept, chipping and charging, and using the slices to great effect.

With a dismissive performance like that, Williams should certainly make a climb up the list of favourites now. The likes of Pam Shriver and Christ Evert had already warned fans to keep an eye on her.

“She is a more capable clay court player than most people think and when you consider the big hitters that have won in the women’s game — Sharapova twice in the last few years and Muguruza last year — Venus is definitely one of the possibilities,” Shriver had said.

“Venus is a very capable clay court player, she’s won grand slams before and the mental part of the game is going to be very important this year,” Evert added.

Williams is a pretty capable clay court player, indeed, with nine titles and a 168-56 career record on clay to earn a winning percentage of 75. On the courts of Roland Garros, her winning percentage is a slightly lower 70 due to a 47-19 record, but the stats have been sullied by her performance on her past nine appearances there where a 14-9 record means a winning percentage of 61.

In her first 10 visits to the French Open, Williams had a 31-10 record and winning percentage of 75, reaching the 2002 final, where she lost to Serena, and four other quarter-finals.

It has been 15 years since she last appeared in the final of a French Open, though, and she has suffered a lot on the physical side in those years.

Can she really turn back the clock now and finally get her name off that list of the greatest champions never to win a French Open? A list that includes her fellow American greats Pat Sampras, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, and, of course, the likes of Stefan Edberg, Martina Hingis, Boris Becker and Kim Clijsters.

She certainly can, especially in the absence of younger sister Serena and Sharapova, winners of four of the past five French Open titles. Lest we forget, she is also enjoying a tremendous second wind since her Sjogren’s Syndrome diagnosis, and reached the final of the Australian Open in January — her first grand slam final in nearly eight years.

So age will certainly not be an issue, nor motivation. For, as Williams said in Miami earlier this year, she is “going to leave everything on the court — all my guts, blood, sweat, tears.”

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Published: May 31, 2017 04:00 AM


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