Roars emerged from the crowds at the BNP Paribas Open as Elena Vesnina took the match in three sets after the 2 hours and 12 minutes thriller, progressing to her first ever Premier Mandatory semifinal of her career, with this amazing run being her second biggest semifinal in her career after reaching the Wimbledon semifinals last year. It was a great performance from Venus Williams, though, as she showed her determined fighting spirit which has inspired many and also herself to continue loving and playing tennis at the age of 36.
Vesnina takes advantage of Williams’ slow start
Similar to the previous rounds, Williams made a very slow start to the match as her serves barely crossed the 85 mph mark in the opening stages. What came as a positive sign was that the heavy strapping on her right elbow did not appear during this match, with a hint that she did not have any injury problems with her elbow already as the week progressed.
It was a surprise start to the first set as Vesnina was the one making a slower start, hitting two consecutive unforced errors to allow Williams to have a 0-30 lead in the opening game. Nevertheless, Vesnina maintained her composure to win four straight points and sealed up the nervy service hold to get the match started on a positive note.
Despite not having any straps on her elbow, Williams’ serve as still a major problem at the start as they were really weak and vulnerable to the strong offensive play by Vesnina, and therefore the Russian broke serve to get the advantage and jump out to an early 3-0 lead. She then consolidated the break to extend her lead to three games and continued to stroll through the match, with the first set already looking to be locked in her hands.
Having a chance to go up a double break lead, Vesnina wasted her chances after Williams managed to get some strong first serves, and also thanks to her own unforced errors which allowed the American to get onto the scoreboard. Williams seemed to have found her first serve speeds soon as she held her service game to love comfortably in the sixth game, garnering a loud applause from the crowd. Vesnina eventually closed out the set 6-2 after she broke serve once more, with 29 minutes being all she needed to be halfway from the victory.
Williams fights back
The second set was much more tense in terms of the scoreboard and also the rallies, with Williams playing an impressive baseline game to earn a chance to level the match and send it into a deciding set. The first breakthrough made was in the fifth game as unforced errors from Vesnina caused her to have a very sloppy service game and her lack of first serves certainly did not help as Williams capitalized on her first break points of the match to take the lead in the second set and earned the upper hand. Despite looking to consolidate the advantage after leading 30-15 in the next game, Williams was unable to go against the merciless offensive style of play by Vesnina, who attacked every single second serve the American got into play.
Therefore, within a blink of an eye, the Russian managed to immediately return level on the scoreboard and keep her chances of closing the match out in straight sets alive. Serving at 4-4, Vesnina failed to deal with the pressure as she eventually threw in a double fault on break point to gift the advantage back to Williams once again, allowing her to have the golden opportunity to serve out the second set. There, the American successfully secured a comfortable service hold as she closed out the set 6-4 after 50 minutes to gain the momentum and level the match at one set all.
Vesnina edges through
Williams carried the momentum over to the final set as she relied on the unforced errors of Vesnina to take a comfortable service break in the opening game, jumping out to an early lead and all of a sudden became the favorite to be victorious. Nevertheless, some slow second serves once again cost the American greatly as they were constantly being attacked by Vesnina, who got the break back immediately and return on serve as soon as possible.
Vesnina then fended off a break point in the next game and held her serve in a tense game, which proved to be crucial in deciding the outcome as the Russian soon broke serve in the sixth game to take the lead and shift the momentum to her side. A consolidation of the service break then placed Vesnina just one game away from the victory, opening up a huge 5-2 lead.
A lengthy marathon game followed as Williams showed some nerves of steel to save a total of three match points and overcome the disappointment of wasting four game points to barely hold onto her service game and keep herself in the match for at least one more game.
Just like on her match points, Vesnina threw the first couple of points away when serving for the match by hitting consecutive unforced errors, which almost gave Williams a lifeline when the Russian went down 0-40 in her service game within just 56 seconds of play. Nevertheless, Vesnina maintained her composure and did not let those errors affect her emotions, managing to get back to deuce with some world-class offensive tennis which forced errors out of Williams, who narrowly missed a backhand down-the-line winner at 15-40 to miss the golden opportunity to return back on serve.
Despite failing to find her first serves at the right time, Vesnina went to take the risk by hitting second serves that was as fast as over 90 mph. That decision proved to be effective as Williams was taken aback by those serves after she was already in a position to attack those second serves, and she proceeded to make six unforced errors on her six break points that she earned in this game, wasting her chances as Vesnina eventually closed out the match on her fourth match point after 2 hours and 12 minutes, progressing to the semifinals where she would face Kristina Mladenovic after she upset Caroline Wozniacki earlier in the day.