CINCINNATI, OH, USA -- In an all-American affair, former World No.1 Venus Williams eased past qualifier Lauren Davis, 7-5, 6-2, to advance to the second round of the Western & Southern Open on Monday afternoon.
"I think my opponents inspire me," Williams said, during her post-match press conference. "I mean, they're good. Each and every single person is just at such a high level that there is no givens. Everyone is playing incredible. That's inspiring in itself to see everyone else playing play well, and that means, okay, I have to continue to work and continue to get better."
Williams came into Cincinnati on an uncharacteristic losing streak, having dropped her last four matches, but the seven-time Grand Slam champion snapped that skid with a 99-minute victory over resurgent Davis, who has risen up the WTA Rankings from No.252 at the end of last year to her current position of No.69.
The former top-ranked player in the world fended off seven of the eight break points she faced in the tilt, and won 61 percent of points when returning the Davis second serve, leading her to four breaks of service.
World No.65 Williams, seeking her 50th career WTA singles title and her first-ever Cincinnati crown, will now take on defending champion Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who received a bye into the second round as the No.5 seed. They have split their two meetings, both three-set tussles coming last year -- Williams won in Miami while Bertens leveled their rivalry at Wimbledon.
"I think [Bertens] does everything well," Williams stated. "She competes well, and she's really matured and is coming into herself the last few years. That takes a lot of courage to figure those things out, especially kind of later in your career. It just shows her strength of character, really.
"You know, I'll definitely see where I can take advantage, but more than anything, if I can play decent, then I have a good chance."
Williams claimed the first break of the match, going ahead 4-2 after a Davis backhand flew long on break point. But Davis immediately struck back, pulling back on serve with a fiery forehand passing winner down the line.
It was Williams who had an early chance to close out the opening frame, garnering a set point on Davis’s serve at 5-4 with an error-forcing forehand in the forecourt. But Davis erased that chance with a solid serve, then held on for 5-5.
Davis then nearly upended the set in the next game, using great groundstrokes from both sides to grab two break points, but Williams steered the game back, holding on for 6-5. The former World No.1 was rewarded for her grit when a cluster of miscues by Davis gave Williams three more set points in the next game. Williams converted her first chance after another long backhand error by Davis.
Williams exhibited tremendous steeliness at 1-1 in the second set, when she staved off five break points in a marathon game en route to a service hold. Then, at 3-2, Williams fired a winning backhand pass to reach break point, then converted her opportunity for a 4-2 lead after another long backhand by Davis.
"[1-1] was a really long game. [Davis] played some great points. Seemed like every time I got down, then I played an even better point. I was just trying to find the rhythm. She has a surprisingly powerful game. You look at her and you don't think she's gonna hit that hard, but she really knows how to control the point. Has an impressive game."
Unlike the first set, Williams took her 4-2 lead and ran with it. The multiple major-winner consolidated her lead to go up 5-2, then grabbed a match point in the next game after a penetrating backhand forced a long error from Davis. The qualifier shot a forehand into the net on that point, and Williams had picked up her first win since the second round of Birmingham in June.
"Just trying to win today and try to win tomorrow and the day after," Williams said with a smile. "At the end of the day, you have to work hard and someone has to win and someone has to lose. I try to be the one that wins. When it doesn't, you just work, just go and work at it."