Competing in her 90th Grand Slam tournament, Venus Williams captured her 90th Wimbledon victory with a hard-fought 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 defeat of Mihaela Buzarnescu in two hours and 37 minutes.
The result snaps a six-match losing streak for Venus dating back to her second-round Australian Open loss to Sara Errani. In that match, the American sustained ankle and knee injuries, and she has struggled to gain momentum since, falling to No.111 in the WTA rankings.
But of Venus's 90 major appearances, 23 have been at her beloved Wimbledon, and five of those have been title runs (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008). She has only lost her SW19 opener on three occasions - on her 1997 debut to Magdalena Grzybowska, in 2012 to Elena Vesnina and in 2019 to Coco Gauff.
The lawns of The Championships were always a likely site for Venus to regain form, and the 41-year-old former World No.1 did so in style. She struck 33 winners, including 10 aces, and frequently drew gasps from an admiring No.3 Court crowd.
Venus's opponent is also familiar with battling through physical ailments. In 2017, at the age of 29, Buzarnescu became the oldest player to make her Top 100 debut in a decade, after spending much of her career beset by various injuries. She went on to reach the Top 20 after winning her maiden title at San Jose 2018, only to suffer an ankle injury the following week that sidelined her for two months.
The Romanian left-hander has yet to recapture her early 2018 form, but showed flashes of it in losing a second-round thriller to Serena Williams at Roland Garros a month ago. She built on that with another fine performance against Venus, finding 28 winners of her own.
For much of the first set, Venus was able to keep Buzarnescu at bay with her first serve, though the World No.160's ability to find sharp angles with her skidding strokes paid dividends in longer rallies. At 5-5, edgy errors from Buzarnescu meant that three break points went begging. Venus gritted out a crucial hold, then kept the pressure on to break Buzarnescu for the set.
A loose opening service game, featuring one of her eight double faults, ultimately cost Venus the second set. It ended in six consecutive service holds without the hint of a break point, and Buzarnescu sealed it with an ace and a clean one-two punch. But some glorious attacking tennis at the start of the decider swung momentum firmly back towards Venus.
A series of scorching down-the-line winners saw Venus leap out to a 5-1 lead. At that point, matters became more complicated again. A match point was squandered with a netted forehand - and, sensing opportunity, Buzarnescu found some of her own best tennis to reduce the deficit to 5-3.
With spots of rain starting to fall, the pressure was on Venus to wrap up the win. It took a gripping four-deuce tussle in which she had to save three break points, but an unreturned serve finally sealed victory on her third match point. Next, Venus will face No.21 seed Ons Jabeur.
Gauff battles past wildcard Jones
Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old American, is back at Wimbledon for the first time since her career completely turned around in London two years ago, which was kickstarted with the aforementioned first-round win over Venus Williams.
In 2019, Gauff was a wildcard into qualifying who blasted all the way into the round of 16 of the main draw before falling to eventual champion Simona Halep. In 2021, the difference could not be more pronounced, as she comes in seeded No.20.
This time around, Gauff was the favorite who had to stare down the underdog, and after a hard battle, the American teen quashed the challenge from 20-year-old British wildcard Francesca Jones, 7-5, 6-4, in an hour and 37 minutes.
"Today I was really nervous going in, my first time back since everything happened in 2019," Gauff said, in her post-match press conference. "Francesca, she came out on the court, she came swinging and playing really well. She played well the whole match. Just a few points here and there that were lucky to go my way. But I think today was a solid first-round performance for me."
World No.211 Jones made a huge professional breakthrough when she qualified for the Australian Open earlier this year, continuing to defy the warnings of doctors who told her a professional tennis career was impossible due to her electrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome.
Missing a finger on each hand and three toes due to that genetic condition, Jones has propelled herself to a career-high ranking this season, after going Down Under for her Grand Slam main-draw debut and other events -- including Adelaide qualifying, where she played and lost to Gauff in their prior meeting.
Gauff again had to face Jones, who was making her Wimbledon debut on home soil. But after two tight sets, Gauff prevailed without facing a break point. Jones ceded only a single break in each set to keep matters extremely close, but Gauff won 80 percent of her first-service points to stay in front.
"[Jones] really gave it her all today," Gauff said. "Today's match, she didn't give me much to work with. Her story is incredible. I guess from people telling her that she couldn't play tennis or let alone go pro or make it this far, the fact that she's here, giving it her all, is something I really respect as an athlete."
Jones stayed with Gauff all the way through 5-5 in the first set, but that was where Gauff pounced, picking off a rally volley to convert her third break point of that game. With the break at last, Gauff's serve was freed up to power to a hold, clinching the one-set lead.
The second-set story was similar: Jones maintained parity until 3-3, where Gauff made her move with stellar return depth to break. Jones did not falter again, but Gauff smoothly sailed to victory from there, bolstered by three aces in the very last game of the match.
"Obviously I'm disappointed to have lost," Jones said, after the match. "I created chances. A break between us in each set."
"I'm going to keep building," Jones continued. "I just competed with someone that made quarters of Roland Garros, is [Top 25] in the world, has multiple WTA titles, and felt comfortable on the court. I know sooner or later I'll find myself in a position where I won't need a wildcard. At the moment, I'm at the beginning of the construction of my house, which has been bought, so to speak."
"That was an analogy, just to clarify," Jones added, with a smile.
Samsonova continues streak; mixed overtime fortunes for Liu, McHale
Following her shock Berlin title run two weeks ago, Liudmila Samsonova was awarded a Wimbledon wildcard. The Russian made good on it in her main draw debut at The Championships, picking up where she left off in Germany to defeat Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-2 in 63 minutes.
"I am boom boom!" Samsonova had joked after lifting the Berlin title, and there was no sign of a let-up in her no-holds barred power game as she fired 29 winners, including 11 aces, past former World No.15 Kanepi.
Two Americans had been left hanging overnight after their matches were suspended for darkness - having both seen match point come and go. On resumption, there were mixed results for qualifier Claire Liu and Christina McHale.
Liu, the 2017 junior Wimbledon champion, had held one match point at 5-3 in the third set against Misaki Doi. But the Japanese player battled to save it and hold serve, at which point the match was called off. Today, Liu failed to serve it out - but recovered to ultimately move into the second round 2-6, 6-3, 9-7. The World No.120 will next face No.18 seed Elena Rybakina.
An all-American derby saw McHale serve for the match against Madison Brengle at 5-4 in the second set and 5-4 in the third set, where she missed four match points. The match was delayed with Brengle leading 7-6 on serve overnight.
On resumption, McHale surged through the first two games, but was unable to serve it out for a third time at 8-7. Victory went to Brengle 3-6, 7-5, 10-8 after two hours and 40 minutes over two days.