LEXINGTON, KY, USA -- Two former World No.1 players and Grand Slam champions took to the court for a first-round tussle at the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics on Tuesday, and it was Venus Williams who ended up emerging triumphant over Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-2.
"Honestly, it’s really difficult to come back after all these months and play well," Williams said, during her post-match press conference. "Most of the time in practice, you’re hitting the ball well, then a match comes and it’s just not the same. I think for both of us, [it’s] just to walk out there and hopefully play well, and I think we both did."
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams will now face another former World No.1 and Grand Slam champion in the second round: no less than her 23-time major-winning sister Serena. Serena Williams overcame fellow American Bernarda Pera in three sets in Tuesday’s first match on Center Court.
"One Grand Slam winner, former World No.1, to another," said Venus Williams. "It’s been quite the draw for me, but quite honestly, this is perfect, because I haven’t played in forever, so I want to play the best players. And I think I got my wish playing Serena, so here we go."
The two WTA Legend siblings will come into their second-round encounter with 38-year-old Serena holding an 18-12 head-to-head lead over her 40-year-old sister. Their most recent completed match went the way of Serena: a 6-1, 6-2 third-round victory for the younger sister at the 2018 US Open.
Against Azarenka on Tuesday, Venus Williams extended her lead in their head-to-head rivalry to 6-2 after the comprehensive 80-minute victory. Williams only faced one break point all day and swatted it away in an impenetrable day on her service. The American was also perfect when she held break points, converting all three she grasped in the match.
"The serve is the most important shot in tennis," said Williams. "If you can have that up and going, it’s a huge advantage, and today it was working for me. The serve has been a big motif in my whole career, so what can I say? When it’s working, it gives me that extra advantage."
"Having all those first serves going in against Victoria was super helpful," Williams continued. "Vika is an unbelievable returner, so a lot of those serves actually came back with interest, and if you’re hitting too many second serves against her, then watch out! So I had to play the perfect match against her."
It was a much-needed first match-win of the season for Williams, who had dropped opening-round tilts at the Australian Open, Acapulco, and Monterrey earlier in the year.
For Azarenka of Belarus, it was only her second event of the year, and the two-time Australian Open champion is still seeking her first match-win of 2020 after losing her only prior match to Tamara Zidansek in Monterrey.
Neither player had any issues holding serve in the first four games, but after acing Azarenka to hold for 3-2, Williams took control of the set in the following game. The American opened that game with a blistering backhand winner down the line, and rolled to triple break point from there. Azarenka double faulted on the first of that trio to hand Williams the 4-2 lead.
After holds by each followed, Williams stepped to the line to serve for the set at 5-3. A netted forehand error by Williams at 30-30 gave Azarenka a chance to get back on serve, but timely power hitting by Williams erased that chance and pulled her to set point. There, another strongly struck backhand was too much for Azarenka, and Williams clinched the opening frame.
As it turned out, Azarenka’s break point in the last game of the opener would be her only one all day. The second set started out difficultly for the Belarusian as well, when a double fault in the first game put her down break point immediately. A long miscue by Azarenka followed, and Williams went up a quick break right away.
The Williams shotmaking was even more overpowering as the second set progressed, as a barrage of sterling service returns gave the American a second break for 3-0. Azarenka eventually got on the board at 4-1, but Williams used more solid serving to reach 5-1 and put herself a game away from victory.
Azarenka exhibited the intense hitting that previously brought her to the top spot in the WTA singles rankings during her hold for 5-2, but it would not be enough, as a return gone awry in the next game gave Williams a first match point. The American legend would seal the match in style, polishing off the victory with a divine lob winner that left her gleeful.