By Shannon Russell
Showing no signs of aging, 37-year-old Venus Williams breezed past fellow American Alison Riske in a 6-2, 6-0 victory Tuesday at the Western & Southern Open.
Now she’ll try to do what she hasn’t done since 2012: Win a second-round match at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
World No. 9 Williams has forged an expansive career resume but has not come close to hoisting the Rookwood Cup since falling to Li Na in an epic three-set semifinal five years ago.
Williams faces 21-year-old qualifier Ashleigh Barty in her next match. If it’s anything like the opener, Barty will have her hands full. Williams pummeled Riske with six aces in the first set.
“I hadn’t played in a while, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I know she likes a flat ball and is a retriever and is just feisty. And the courts are really slow too. Today was like about being measured and being patient and trying to just capitalize on the match,” Williams said.
Riske committed eight of her 19 unforced errors in the first set and never found her bearings after that, struggling with Williams’ steady stream of forehand winners. Williams won 83 percent of her first serve points and converted six of nine break points.
Williams’ sister, Serena, won the W&S Open in 2014 and 2015 and is awaiting the birth of her first child. Asked if she felt pressure to win this tournament, too, Venus Williams said “not really” but added that she wants to win it.
“I mean, I want to win every match. There is no fun when you lose at all,” Williams said. “So the aim is to get out there and be better every single time.”
MOVIN’ ON UP: It took two hours and 22 minutes to complete, but David Ferrer won a marathon match against Steve Johnson on Grandstand Court. Ferrer prevailed 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 and outlasted the American in a 51-minute third set.
The duo nearly neutralized one other in double faults (six, Johnson and seven, Ferrer) but the Spaniard was more efficient in converting break points and capitalizing on his opponent’s miscues. Johnson had 65 unforced errors throughout, including 41 via his forehand.
Ferrer moves on to meet Janko Tipsarevic for the first time since 2013. Ferrer has a 5-1 all-time record against the Serb.
In another definitive victory, Japanese player Yuichi Sugita stunned 13th-seeded Jack Sock in a 7-5, 6-4 outing on Center Court.
Sock, ranked 16th on the ATP World Tour, showed signs of frustration as World No. 46 Sugita maintained his poise in their first-ever meeting.
“I tried to make a serve and the first shot is the most important thing,” Sugita said. “I tried to go into the net and be aggressive on the court.”
While the on-court heat wrought havoc on some players’ intentions Tuesday, Sugita said he “loved it.” He also won his first ATP World Tour title – last month’s Antalya Open in Turkey – in searing heat.
SWEET TOOTH: Sixth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki prides herself in a healthy diet but admitted Tuesday that she has weaknesses when it comes to sweets. If certain edibles are easily accessible, she’s liable to indulge.
Ice cream. Swedish Fish. Sour Patch Kids.
“I like to treat myself once in a while. I have a lot of respect for the players that do gluten-free and sugar-free and all of that. For me, that would be too hard. Obviously I don’t eat, you know, 3 pounds a day but a little bit here and there didn’t hurt anybody,” Wozniacki said.
Wozniacki arrives at the W&S Open in a good place – physically fit, anticipating the ball well, and exhibiting exceptional speed and endurance. A finalist at her last two tournaments (Rogers Cup, Bastad), the 27-year-old player is angling for her first title in Mason.
Fifth-ranked Wozniacki is among five players vying for the WTA’s No. 1 ranking, too, but her odds are long. Not only would she have to win the W&S Open, but defending champion and current No. 1 Karolina Pliskova would have to lose her first match and No. 2 Simona Halep would have to lose before the semifinals.
Wozniacki has been ranked No. 1 for 67 weeks in her career, but not since Jan. 29, 2012. Still, she remains one of the top contenders for the biggest titles.
And while she’s here, she might just sample the Graeter’s Ice Cream everyone keeps talking about.
“My first time here was back in 2005 and I have never been (to Graeter’s),” Wozniacki said. “That’s actually shocking to me. That’s definitely a stop that I’m going to make this time.”
STEP RIGHT UP: John Isner became the first men’s player to punch his ticket to the Round of 16 by firing 16 aces in a 6-3, 6-3 defeat of wild card Tommy Paul on Tuesday evening.
The American required 56 minutes to oust his foe, battering Paul with serves up to 141 miles per hour and winning 93 percent of his first serve points.
What lies ahead could be even better. The 6-foot-10 player faces the victor of Wednesday’s match between hot-handed Alexander Zverev and wild card Frances Tiafoe.
Zverev has a 3-0 head-to-head record against Isner, including two outings this year (Miami, Rome). More recently, 20-year-old Zverev has won titles at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
“Who knows how (Zverev is) going to rock up after D.C. and Montreal? I have seen him the last two days. He seems fine and pretty jovial and in good spirits. Of course, why wouldn’t he be after those two tournaments? Physically, he looks great,” Isner said.
“I think he recognizes that, as well. I think he’s looked at the draw and seen that Roger (Federer) is out and Milos (Raonic) is out. So I think his eyes are kind of popped wide open again. He’s looking for another one. If I do play him, it will be a huge challenge. For me, he’s definitely the guy to beat right now on tour.”
Isner also had praise for 87th-ranked Tiafoe, calling him “someone who always rises to the occasion on a big match.” Isner escaped Tiafoe in their lone meeting, a five-set match at last year’s US Open.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: The Court 4 showdown between Robin Haase and Adrian Mannarino had the potential for must-see tennis considering the duo’s strong performances last week at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Their W&S Open match lived up to the billing.
Mannarino gritted out a 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-2 victory in a two hours and six minutes, earning the right to face World No. 20 Sam Querrey. Mannarino, ranked 36th, is 2-0 all-time against the American.
So how did Mannarino survive? By saving one match point during the second-set tiebreak. Haase led 8-7 but, after failing to convert, lost 10 of the next 12 points to drop the set.
Haase fell behind a break in the third set and the Frenchman rolled.