INDIAN WELLS, CA -- In a topsy-turvy meeting, former World No.1 Venus Williams of the United States got past former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-4, 0-6, 6-3, in the first-round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.
"It was good to be back here and have the crowd behind me," Williams told the press, following her win. "[Petkovic] was really tough and consistent, tough to get any balls past her. I’m just happy things went my way in the third set. It got really close there."
It was the fourth time in their five meetings that the match went three sets, but in the end, it was Williams who prevailed in one hour and 45 minutes to grab a 3-2 lead in their head-to-head history. Each player broke six times in the encounter, though Williams was more effective on serve in the two sets she won, including winning 76 percent of points on her first set in the final set.
"I haven’t played in forever, so that was challenging in itself, to get back into competition," said Williams, whose last match was a third-round loss to then-World No.1 Simona Halep at the Australian Open.
Williams, who has reached the semi-finals three times at Indian Wells, including last year, now moves into an intriguing second-round meeting with World No.3 and 2019 Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova. Kvitova leads their head-to-head 4-2, but all of their matches have gone three sets, and Williams won their most recent encounter, in the quarterfinals of the 2017 US Open.
"We haven’t played in a couple years," said Williams, of Kvitova. "She’s been having a great last year."
Petkovic started the match strongly, holding for 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner, then claiming the first break with a fiery forehand. But Williams struck back right away, getting back on serve at 3-2 with an error-forcing forehand on her fourth break point of the game.
Another patch of solid forehands by Petkovic put her up a break once more at 4-2, but Williams again broke back, this time with a passing winner, and finally ended the run of four straight breaks by holding for 4-4.
Petkovic dropped serve for a third straight time with a flurry of unforced errors, giving Williams a 5-4 lead and a chance to serve for the set. Despite a visit from the trainer after that game, Williams took her opportunity with aplomb, clinching the one-set lead with an ace that nicked the edge of the center line.
However, the second set was all Petkovic, as she tightened up her game while Williams appeared increasingly sluggish. Petkovic fired forehands at will past Williams to jump ahead 3-0, and Williams fell behind a double break after dropping a close service game with a double fault.
Petkovic held at love to lead 5-0 before Williams was broken for a third time in the set, handing over the bagel with a backhand miscue. The German had seven winners in the set, and did not face a break point while winning all of her second-service points. By contrast, Williams was undone by 14 unforced errors, to only five winners.
But Williams quickly turned that momentum around in the third set. The American broke Petkovic’s serve to start the set, then blasted groundstrokes to lead the German into errors, eventually breaking for a 4-1 lead.
Serving for the match at 5-2, Williams faltered, falling behind 0-40, but pulled herself back to deuce, then reached match point after a Petkovic forehand flew long. But Williams double faulted, squandering that chance, and then she struck two consecutive forehand errors to drop serve and give Petkovic a lifeline.
Petkovic nearly extended the match further, reaching game point at 5-3, but Williams knocked off an overhead to send that game to deuce. Finally, two forehand unforced errors by the German gave Williams another break, which earned her the victory and a date with Petra Kvitova in the second round.