TORONTO, Canada - Carla Suárez Navarro garnered her first win over Venus Williams in over four years in an all-unseeded first round tilt at the Rogers Cup, coming through their 11th meeting 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 18 minutes.
It was a match between two former Top 10 players who have rarely found Toronto a happy hunting ground: Williams first played the main draw here in 1995 but did not notch up a win until 2017, and today's loss drops her record in the Ontarian capital to 2-7. Suárez Navarro, though, had only won one previous match in Toronto in four previous appearances, and had taken just one set in five straight losses to the American since Miami 2015 - but successfully overcame all this history with a series of whipped forehands and strong serving to reduce her overall head-to-head deficit to 4-7.
"Always it's tough for me when I play against Venus," admitted Suárez Navarro. "Today I tried to focus on my serve and returns - I'm really happy with the way I played today." Her opponent concurred, with Venus describing the 2016 Doha champion as "extra sharp" on the court.
With 16 winners apiece, Suárez Navarro ultimately demonstrated greater control over her aggression, totalling 19 unforced errors to Williams's 26. The World No.56 is now on a four-match losing streak dating back to her Birmingham quarterfinal showing.
The 30-year-old was solid out of the blocks, winning the first 10 points behind her serve while probing the Williams delivery with aggressive second serve returns. Williams was able to come up with fine power tennis to extricate herself from two separate early break point situations, but eventually paid the price for two double faults in the seventh game - the second conceding what would prove to be the crucial break.
With her back to the wall, the 39-year-old battled brilliantly to keep the first set alive, saving set points with a bold drive volley and a backhand winner that glanced off the sideline - as well as another with a fortuitous dead net cord - but, recognising the danger of a comeback, Suárez Navarro stepped up her level to close the first act out with two of her most aggressive points of the day, sealing her fifth set point with an audaciously struck forehand angle.
A patchy opening passage of play saw both players struggling to hold serve as the second set got under way: Williams continued to struggle with both unforced errors and alarmingly mounting double faults, offering up three more of the latter, but Suárez Navarro's forehand was also missing in action and the Spaniard was initially unable to take advantage of her opponent's gifts. Five straight service breaks ensued.
But once the World No.26 located her forehand again, she resumed control. That wing provided Suárez Navarro with a series of beautifully shaped drives to snap the streak of breaks, a scorching return down the line to capture the still error-strewn Williams serve once again, and a brace of one-two punches to close out the match and set up a second-round clash with No.16 seed Anett Kontaveit.