A win by Venus with an assist to Richard Williams
MIAMI — Richard Williams was perched courtside, in the a box ordinarily reserved for photographers during his daughter Venus‘ Miami Open quarterfinals match against world No. 1 Angelique Kerber on Wednesday evening.
Richard was so near that Venus could feel the tension that held him in its grip and hear him muttering encouragements. It was the first match of hers that Richard has attended in almost a year, and the presence of the most famous tennis dad in history proved inspirational.
Williams punched through Kerber’s vaunted defense time and time again, and ultimately became the oldest player to beat a No. 1, prevailing 7-5, 6-3 in an hour and 39 minutes of often riveting tennis.
“[My dad] really wanted it for me,” Venus said afterward, a broad smile lighting her face. “I could hear him on the sidelines. It’s always a happy moment, when I come off the court. Even if I lose, he’s still very happy. But to see the joy and the pride and the excitement — I could win the match just for that.”
Combine the inspiration with Venus’ preparation and the end result was a fetching but explosive display of tennis worthy of a 22-year-old. That it was the product of a woman who is a multiple former champion here is no great surprise, at least not until you factor in that she last won this event 16 years ago.
Somehow, “elder statesman” doesn’t have the right ring. “Role model” and “flag-bearer” might strike a more appropriate note. Fifteen women from the U.S. settled into the starting blocks at this tournament, but by the quarterfinal stage only one remained. Her name was Williams, not Serena.
Venus’ little sister, the all-time Open era Grand Slam champion, takes up most of the real estate dedicated to the Williamses in the public imagination. As a result, Venus has spent most of the past decade flying comfortably, if not anonymously, on the radar. She has fought gamely and successfully against a potentially debilitating condition called Sjogren’s Syndrome, and that effort has sometimes gotten even more attention than her periodic bursts of brilliance.
She might not be the most successful player in her own family home, but she’s a former No. 1 and seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and has played extremely consistent tennis since October 2015. Her ranking has hovered around the top 15 and up as high as No. 6 throughout. She’s a Wimbledon icon, having won five titles there. Kerber prevented her from meeting Serena in another final just last July. Don’t think Venus has forgotten it either.
Kerber is a terrific counter-puncher, but the energy, power and mobility that animated Williams was simply irresistible.
“That’s how I’m supposed to play, totally,” Williams said after the match, referring to how well she controlled the points and dominated the tempo. But she was disappointed in the number of unforced errors she made — 33 compared with Kerber’s 27 — as well as her low first-serve conversion rate (45 percent).