Venus Silences Serena in Dubai Semis
Published February 20, 2009 12:00
DUBAI, UAE - After two very different semifinals on Friday, Saturday shall be 'V Day' at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, as Venus Williams takes on Virginie Razzano in the final of the $2,000,000 Premier event. First to confirm her place in the title match was unseeded Razzano, who swept aside No.16 seed Kaia Kanepi in two quick sets; in the evening session, Venus needed a third set tie-break to stop her sister Serena, 61 26 76(3).
Despite the disparity in rank and experience of such lofty occasions - Venus will be gunning for a 40th career singles title - Saturday's final should by no means be a formality. One of Razzano's two career singles titles was earned on a hardcourt at the Japan Open in 2007 - where she defeated none other than Venus in three closely-fought sets.
Certainly the current world No.58 has enjoyed a remarkable run this week. After beating Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round, the 25-year-old Frenchwoman stunned world No.2 Dinara Safina in the second round, then scored another on-paper upset against Daniela Hantuchova, before unseating fifth seed Vera Zvonareva in the quarters. And it was clear from the get-go today that she wasn't yet ready to awaken from the dream.
Although Kanepi - whose big win of the week was over Jelena Jankovic in the third round - broke serve in the first game of the match, Razzano broke right back and reeled off seven games to take the opener and build a 2-0 lead in the second set.
The Estonian briefly stopped the rot, leveling at 2-2 after Razzano followed up a double fault with a forehand into the net, but Razzano applied her superior court movement and aggressive ball striking to steal back the momentum, conceding just three points in the next four games to close out the contest in 63 minutes.
"It was me who was the boss today," said Razzano, who is also a two-time runner-up on the Tour. "I wanted to do my best to reach the final."
For her part, Kanepi - who should nonetheless make her Top 20 debut when next week's rankings are released, said lack of form was more a factor than fatigue. "Almost nothing went right," the 23-year-old said. "The serve didn't work that well and the baseline game wasn't that good either.
"She also played very well and played some great shots. It's very disappointing but I just have to learn from my mistakes and move forward."
After an inauspicious start by an out-of-sorts Serena, the 19th professional meeting between the Williams sisters developed into an at-times scintillating affair - if not exactly an unqualified classic.
In the opening set, Serena's first service percentage was a dire 36%, compared to her elder sibling's 83%, and she delivered six double faults, whereas Venus kept her slate clean. With so many second serves to tee off on, Venus was able to play more aggressively, striking winners seemingly at will.
Clearly nonplussed by her performance, Serena lifted her game in the second set, which she came to dominate just as emphatically as Venus had the first. Now making 81 percent of her first serves, Serena successfully fended off the two break points she faced, while also breaking Venus twice to force the decider.
The world No.1 carried that momentum into the third set, breaking Venus early to establish a clear lead. But Venus leveled, and after exchanging serves again both players held to prompt a tie-break - although Venus had to save a further two break points along the way. But seeming to be struggling physically, suddenly Serena's resistance crumbled in the face of some of Venus's most powerful serves.
"In the first set I didn't do anything wrong, but Serena being the champion she is fought back I the second," Venus told TV commentator Annabel Croft after moving into her first final of the season, and improving her lifetime head-to-head against Serena to 10-9. "I don't know how I did it in the end.
"I'm always big sister, but when we're on court I can't think too much about whether she's OK - I have to stay focused because she's a great player and anything can happen. I'm looking forward to a great final."
Saturday's championship match will be preceded by the doubles final, in which No.1 seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber will take on unseeded Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska. Black and Huber are gunning for their second title on the trot, after edging third-seeded Australians Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs in straight sets, 64 64. In a semi played earlier in the day, Kirilenko and Radwanska upset No.4 seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Francesca Schiavone in a match tie-break, 26 63 108.