Ninth seed Venus Williams faced an almighty test in her first round match at the 2017 Rogers Cup in Toronto, holding off an inspired Irina-Camelia Begu in an epic rain-delayed three-setter. Williams seemed on her way to an easy victory after cruising through the opening set and taking the early lead in the second, but found herself fighting for her life as Begu battled back. With the third set taking nearly three hours including a rain delay, it was the American who held her nerve and scored a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
Williams powers through opener
It was all Williams practically from the first ball of the match, as the powerful American began pummeling Begu around the court. Her ferocious groundstrokes brought up a double break point opportunity in the second game of the match and, as if to further show off her power, Williams ripped a line-clipping return which Begu challenged believing it was out, but hawkeye showed it to have landed well inside the baseline.
In the following game, the American slipped up a bit, throwing in some errors and a double fault to give Begu a chance to break back, but Williams’ serve came to the rescue as she held to stretch her lead to 3-0. The ninth-seed continued to dominate and was rewarded for her aggression with a break to love in the sixth game. Williams wrapped up the set with ease in the following game 6-1.
Begu Battles Back
The match seemed all but over when a pair of double faults and a forehand whiff gave Williams a double break point opportunity in the opening game of the set. However, the American would miss both her returns of serve, allowing Begu to battle back and hold. The Romanian then had an opportunity of her own in the following game when Williams double faulted to fall behind 15-40. But the American’s power came to the rescue, saving both with unreturnable shots.
Williams would appear to take a stranglehold on the match in the following game when more big hitting brought up another double break point and this time, Begu netted a routine forehand to give her opponent a set and a break lead. However, more and more errors were starting to creep into Williams’ game. Another double fault set up another break point for Begu and this time, a well-paced lob drew a soft return from Williams, stranding her in no-man’s land for Begu to pass with a perfect crosscourt backhand, leveling the set at 2-2.
The break seemed to swing the momentum firmly in favour of the Romanian, who opened up her next return game with a perfect forehand crosscourt return winner. Williams would follow with three straight unforced errors to give away the break at love. Now the with the lead for the first time in the match, Begu did not let up. She would easily control her next two service games, setting herself up to serve out the set at 5-3. She did not have it all her own way in the ninth game, failing to convert her first two set points before finally Williams missed a return at deuce before netting a backhand to hand Begu the set.
Williams hangs on
The momentum seemed to carry over for Begu at the start of the third set, as a perfect return winner gave her a break point in the opening game of the decider. However, right after hitting a perfect return, the Romanian sent her next one wide. Twice more Begu held break points in that game, both times she failed to put her return in play. After Williams held, the match was delayed for a couple of minutes as some rain began to drizzle onto the court. In the following game, Williams early made Begu pay for the missed returns, bringing up a break point with a huge return of her own. However, she missed a backhand and the Romanian would hold.
After Williams held fairly easily in the following game, she went back to work on the Begu serve, pushing the game to deuce when she chased down a lob and hit a 360 backhand passing shot winner. Unfortunately, the skies would the open up mid-game, forcing the players to retreat to the locker room.
After a delay of nearly two hours, Williams came storming out of the gate, winning a monstrous point with a blocking backhand volley to set up break point, which she was gifted when Begu missed a forehand. However, in the very next game, the Romanian raced ahead and would go on to draw back-to-back errors to put the set back on serve. After holding, she had a chance to take a lead in the decider when Williams drove a forehand long, but the American would run Begu ragged on the break point and save it. She would save another before holding.
In the very next game, Begu seemed to start running out of gas. A series of errors gave Williams double break point and finally, the tennis gods made their decision in the match as, on the second break point, Begu’s shot hit the net cord, popped up into the air, and died on her own side to surrender the break and give Williams a chance to serve out the match. The veteran American made no mistake, hanging on for her first win ever win in Toronto.
By the numbers
After a dominant opening set, Williams was far from her best on serve in this match, double-faulting ten times and only winning 41 percent of her second serve points. However, the American managed to save 73 percent of her break points, including several key ones late in the third set.
Williams now awaits the winner between Katerina Siniakova and Mariana Duque-Marino in the second round.