INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA -- Former World No.1 Venus Williams of the United States reached the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open for the third straight year after moving past her compatriot, qualifier Christina McHale, 6-2, 7-5 on Monday afternoon.
In the first meeting between the two Americans, it was seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams, a semifinalist last year in Indian Wells, who came back from early breaks down in both sets to emerge victorious after one hour and 25 minutes of play.
"I never played [McHale], so it's also, you're out there learning what they do well, what shots they select," Williams told the press, after her win. "At [3-5 in the second set], I'm, like, 'Okay, I understand.' And I felt comfortable with trying to control the point from there."
It was another strong performance from World No.36 Williams following her second-round upset of World No.3 Petra Kvitova. Williams converted seven of her nine break points and had 20 winners, two more than her opponent.
World No.140 McHale, a former Top 30 player, acquitted herself well in the second set but was undone by 35 unforced errors, nearly double her winner court.
Williams, a three-time Indian Wells semifinalist still seeking her first final, will face another unseeded player in the fourth round: Mona Barthel of Germany. World No.97 Barthel, a former Top 25 player, notched her second Top 20 win in a row with a third-round upset of her countrywoman Julia Goerges, the No.15 seed, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4. Barthel also upset No.17 seed Madison Keys in the second round.
"I have played [Barthel] a few times," said Williams, who leads their head-to-head 3-0. "Not recently, but it's definitely a different match. I feel definitely more comfortable going into that match than, for example, today. I had never played [McHale] before, so you feel like you don't really know what's going to happen.
"At least tomorrow I'll walk out on the court knowing what to expect, having played her, and then adjust as the match goes on."
After being broken in the first game, Williams then exhibited the form that brought her to five Wimbledon championships and claimed four straight games to reach 4-1. The former World No.1 extended her lead even further by breaking McHale at love for a 5-1 lead, punctuating that game with a bruising forehand service return for a clean winner.
McHale clawed one break back in the following game, but she was unable to consolidate, firing two double faults at the start and the end of the game to hand over another service break to Williams, giving the 38-year-old a one-set lead. Williams was 4-for-4 on break points in the set, while McHale only won 18 percent of her first-service points and never held serve.
Just as in the first set, Williams dropped serve in the opening game of the second set, but on this occasion, McHale was prepared to hold that lead. McHale fended off a break point to reach 2-0 after her first service hold of the match, and used outstanding defense to push her lead to 3-1.
Williams got back level by breaking McHale’s serve with ease for 3-3, but the qualifier continued to track every ball down and find perfect placements to reclaim the break and lead 4-3. However, with McHale serving for the set at 5-4, Williams turned up the heat, slamming winners to reach triple break point and taking the love service break with a backhand crosscourt winner off of a drop shot.
Back at parity at 5-5, Williams had to stave off one more break point before holding for 6-5, but after getting out of that tough spot, the two-time US Open champion was in the driver’s seat. Errors by McHale in the next game gave Williams two match points, and a sixth double fault ended the encounter, putting Williams back into the round of 16.