Williams came into Cincinnati riding a wave of confidence. Last week en route to a runner-up showing in Montréal, she beat Angelique Kerber, Carla Suárez Navarro and sister Serena Williams for her first win over a World No.1 in over five years. She also returned to the Top 20 for the first time since March 2013.
But would fatigue be a factor for Williams? Her Cincinnati campaign was starting against dangerous lefty Safarova just two days after her Rogers Cup run that featured three three-setters.
The Turning Point
Sure enough, this one went three sets as well. The first set saw the players trade holds through 10 games and then trade breaks to force a tie-break that Williams cruised through. Safarova turned the tide in securing the second set's lone break at 3-2 and eventually forced a deciding set.
Safarova raced out to a 5-1 lead in that final set before things got complicated. Williams held for 5-2, and then on her second match point at 5-3, Safarova forced an apparent Williams error and was ready to celebrate when Williams challenged the preceding shot Safarova had hit. It turned out it was barely long, and Safarova had to regroup and try to close it out again.
But Williams eventually broke and held, and Safarova got another chance to serve it out. Other than one double fault, it was a perfect game, and she finally got to celebrate her 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 win.
By the Numbers
In that second set in which she grabbed the momentum, Safarova converted on her lone break chance, while Williams was zero out of four. That led to Safarova's first victory in five meetings with Williams, though this was their first since the 2010 Australian Open.
"Venus is a great player," Safarova said. "She has performed really well lately. I knew I had to be sharp and fight hard. I think it was a great match, and I'm happy to get my first win over her."
"It was definitely a quick turnaround," Williams said. "But she just played so well. No matter what shot I hit, she hit a winner, or if I hit it really deep, she somehow managed to control it down the line. I think she got a little tight at 5-1, so I had some chances to come back, but that's a deep hole. Sometimes it's just tough to play opponents who are hitting everything off every shot. She managed to do that today."