TIANJIN, China – Rebecca Peterson scored an upset victory over Venus Williams to move into the second round of the Tianjin Open, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

There were 14 breaks of serve during an encounter that was impossibly difficult to forecast from one point to the next but was ultimately mastered by the 24-year-old, who became the fourth player outside of the Top 50 to defeat the American in 2019.

Each of Venus’ previous three matches had passed the two-hour mark and this one would follow that pattern as she fought back from behind to force a decider, which went against the seven-time major champion as she bowed out after 124 hard-fought minutes.

“When I saw the draw, I was happy,” Peterson said. “I saw it as a great opportunity and a great experience. It’s such a privilege to play such a champion. I was just trying to enjoy it as much as I could.

“I tried to stick in there and go point by point, and not think any further than the next point.”

Williams, the WTA World No.51, suffered a heartbreaking loss against Belinda Bencic in Beijing last week, in which she missed two match points to shock the WTA World No.10 and initially struggled to regain that level against a player who recently won her maiden title in Nanchang.

While the American sought to dominate with her power, in contrast Peterson scurried around the baseline seeking to provide as great an obstacle as possible. She proved successful in quelling the higher-ranked player in the first set. Although Venus delivered a couple of love games, she was broken in all three of her other service games, as she racked up 18 unforced errors to just eight winners.

By contrast, Peterson, whose greatest weapon was her ability to maneuver her opponent out of position, hit just eight mistakes and seven winners to claim the opening set.

Her first-set tactics of keeping the 39-year-old on the run were matched by an even greater intensity to her work in the opening games of the second. This was epitomized by her brilliant defensive work before a successful pass in the second point of the set.

Peterson threatened to runaway with the match as she broke only for fortune to desert her when serving to save a break point. Venus hit a forehand that was perilously close to flying into the net, only for it to clip the top of the cord and fall inches over to draw level.

It was a moment that the seven-time major winner drew inspiration from as she blasted her way to three successive games, taking command of the set in the process. Even after her radar blipped, allowing her opponent to break back, she was suitably able to compose herself, regain her edge and level the scores.

Her improvement was outlined by her figures of 15 winners to 12 unforced errors, while Peterson registered both a drop in the winners column and an increase in her mistakes.

Venus was measured with her approach at the start of the third. While she was still hitting through the ball, she chased fewer lines and was rewarded with a break to go 2-1 up, Peterson buckling under her pressure with a second double fault of the match at a crucial juncture.

The Swede, though, showed her own mental fortitude to hit immediately back, levelling after an epic backhand exchange on break point, then moving ahead 3-2 after finding perhaps her best serve of the match.

Holding serve was proving to be more important than breaking in a rollercoaster decider, which saw the returner win five games from six in the middle part of the set. 

It was Peterson’s never and technique that held in the end, setting up a second-round clash against No.5 seed Zhang Shuai or a qualifier.