By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON, England - The inventive Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez had scored two super impressive wins at Wimbledon with a fine mix of serving and volleying and chipping and charging, but neither of those wins were against five-time champion Venus Williams, who walked onto Court 1 on Friday and completely suffocated the Spaniard in a 6-0, 6-2 victory.
The American veteran had decided before the match that there was no way she was going to concede the net to Martinez and spend three hours chasing deft volleys like she did in her marathon win over Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second round. So she crowded the service box when the left-hander served and more than happily took twisters into her backhand side, slapping her two-hander at the stunned Spaniard's feet. Any time she received a short ball, Venus either put it away or swooped into net behind it and knocked off a volley. She served far better than she did against Date Krumm, consistently hammering in flat serves around 118 mph. There was absolutely no contest from the backcourt as Martinez didn't come close to matching Venus' power of proficiency.
The memories of Martinez's wins over former No.1 Jelena Jankovic and Romanian Monica Niculescu faded quickly. Venus finished with 21 winners and just five unforced errors, and was 16 of 21 at the net, while the usually effective Martinez was just 10 of 20 at the net.
"I felt like I've gotten attacked enough in that second round match," Venus said of her clash with Date Krumm. "I definitely knew how she was going to play. I played her here before on the grass [a victory in 2008]. So I thought my best bet was definitely to make sure I took the net away from her first. It worked out really well."
Even though Venus has won Wimbledon five times, at the age of 31, she is no longer looked at a player who can steamroll her way though the draw like she was in 2008, the last time she won the title. After reaching the quarterfinals last year and being upset by Tsvetana Pironkova, she has played sporadically due to knee and hip injuries. In fact, going back to the end Wimbledon 2010, 12 of her last 15 matches have been played at Grand Slams, including her semifinal appearance at the 2010 US Open and her third round retirement at the 2011 Australian Open.
But despite her obvious rust, Venus is a resourceful player who knows how to win matches. She doesn't have the flat out sprinter's speed that she once did, but she's a smart player who understands her strengths and weaknesses and is willing to take any kind of victory.
"I'm in the next round. That's my main goal regardless whether I play amazing, whether I play halfway decent, doesn't matter," she said. "It's just about finding a way to win. So for me, as long as I find a way to win that round, I'm good. It's not about any level."
Venus does feel like she moving well again, which is quite encouraging given that her lower body has taken an absolute pounding since she played her first pro match back in the fall of 1994. She says that she feels like she moving quickly forward, which is a great sign considering that if she is to win this 125th version of The Championships, she's going to have to largely do it by dominating at the cords.
She'll face a very stiff test in the fourth round on Monday when she has to confront Pironkova again, who took out 2010 Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva 6-2 6-3. Venus has taken back-to-back losses to elite players like Clijsters and her sister Serena at the majors before, but it's been rare to see her lose to a relatively unsung player twice at a Slam. It's never happened at Wimbledon and she's raring to go.
"Last year, unfortunately I didn't play that well," she said. "I don't feel I competed well. Regardless of how I play, I know I'll be competing this time. This is a fourth round. I'm ready to bring my best game and my best competition. Last year I think I just got unhappy with how I was playing and I let that affect my game. This year I won't let that happen. Sometimes you can let a few games get away and get upset. Last year I let a few games get away, and instead of coming back, I let it all get to me. You can't do that, especially in a Wimbledon quarterfinal. I won't let anything get to me this time."