MIAMI, FL, USA - Venus Williams, unseeded at the Miami Open for just the fourth time in 20 appearances, nonetheless showed just how formidable she is in Florida with a 7-6(4), 6-1 upset of No.24 seed Carla Suárez Navarro in one hour and 41 minutes.
The pair have put together one of the most underrated rivalries on the WTA Tour over the past decade, having squared off in a number of dramatic tilts - including four years ago in Miami, when the Spaniard triumphed 0-6, 6-1, 7-5 in the quarterfinals. Williams, however, has had the measure of Suárez Navarro in recent times, having now taken their last five meetings to lead 7-3 overall.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, there was very lttle between the two players over the course of a narrowly contested first set. Its first half saw two break exchanges: three double faults in her opening game got Williams off to a nightmare start, but the American hit back immediately with strong play off the ground. The three-time Miami champion sustained her momentum to break for 3-1, only to beckon Suárez Navarro back in with a fourth double fault - an opportunity the 30-year-old seized with alacrity, levelling the score at 3-3 with two glorious backhand winners.
Thereafter, both players settled into a groove on serve as the set headed towards a tiebreak, with Williams mixing up out-and-out aggression - striking 18 frequently breathtaking winners in the process - with swashbuckling net forays and savvy use of loopy topspin to disrupt her opponent's rhythm.
Suárez Navarro, meanwhile, still had a pair of crowd-pleasing one-handed backhand winners up her sleeve in the tiebreak, but the 2015 runner-up was also unusually error-prone, with her 19 unforced errors almost double her total of first-set winners - and with the last two responsible for the set slipping from her grasp.
Throughout the match, Williams's demeanour was relaxed, the 38-year-old laughing off her misses - as well as some of the stranger points, such as the exchange of lobs from line to line towards the close of the first set. This showed in the World No.43's play as well as, with the first set under her belt, she went from strength to strength. The net in particular proved a profitable hunting ground: Williams excelled in all sorts of ways in the forecourt today, from the forehand slice approach that set up a neatly angled backhand volley to save break point in the second game to the delicious touch on the drop volley in the fifth game.
By contrast, Suárez Navarro began offering up increasingly ill-timed double faults to hand Williams the advantage on return, and the former World No.1 needed no further encouragement. Williams broke in the first game, and - not put off by an extended delay after a spectator was taken ill - captured a double break for 4-1. Indeed, after that unfortunate pause Williams simply accelerated even faster towards the finishing line, winning 11 of the final 15 points on resumption.
Into the third round once again, Williams will next face No.14 seed Daria Kasatkina - against whom she has a 1-2 losing head-to-head, including a marathon Indian Wells semifinal defeat last year.