Venus Williams seeks a spot in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells when she takes on Russia’s Elena Vesnina on Thursday.
Williams is playing the event for the second consecutive season, after ending her well-publicised 15-year self-imposed absence in 2016. She made an underwhelming return to the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens last season, losing her opening match to Japan’s Karumi Nara, but she has more than made up for it this year, standing on the brink of her first semi-final since the controversial events of 2001.
Venus began her season at the ASB Classics in Auckland, where she won her opening match before pulling out of a second round meeting with Naomi Osaka because of an arm injury. She recovered in time to put together a fantastic run to the Australian Open final, where she was denied by sister Serena. Venus made the rather curious decision to compete in the week immediately following the Australian Open, and she unsurprisingly failed to cross the first hurdle, falling rather easily to Kristina Mladenovic.
She didn’t play again until the BNP Paribas Open, and the rest has come in handy, as the American great has come through a challenging draw to take her place in the quarter final.
She was on the ropes against fellow former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, trailing by a set and a break, and having to save three match points before coming through in three sets. She had it easier against Lucie Safarova in the third round, dismissing the former French Open champion 6-4 6-2. Venus hit 15 winners and 9 unforced errors in that match- that error count is outstanding by anyone’s standards, even more so, Venus’s.
She got drawn into another battle against the double-fisted Chinese, Shuai Peng in the fourth round, but the seven-time Grand Slam champion fought back from the loss of the third set to cruise through the decider, and into the quarter finals of the BNP Paribas where she will take on Russia’s Elina Vesnina.
Vesnina is coming off the biggest win of her career, blasting 28 winners beyond Angelique Kerber to take down the soon-to-be world number one in straight sets. This is Vesnina’s second quarter final of the season, having reached the same stage in St. Petersburg. The Russian currently sits at a career-high ranking of 15, but she actually has not had the best of seasons. She opened the year with back-to-back losses in Brisbane and Sydney before reaching the third round at the Australian Open. Vesnina made the second round in Doha and Dubai, before this quarter final run at Indian Wells- by far the best result of her season.
She opened with a 6-4 7-5 victory over American Shelby Rogers, before coming through a tough second round against Budapest champion, Timea Babos. The 30-year-old overcame dizziness and a break deficit in the final set to outlast the Hungarian, before going on to dismiss Kerber in straights in the fourth round. Already an accomplished doubles’ players, having reached the finals of the four Grand Slams and won two of them, Vesnina made her biggest impression in singles last season, when she reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon before falling to Serena Williams.
Perhaps strangely, Vesnina holds a winning record against Venus Williams, having won three of their five career meetings. Vesnina won their first two encounters, at Wimbledon in 2012, and in Cincinnati in 2013; Venus hit back with a brace of her own, stopping the Russian in Dubai in 2014 and Auckland in 2015, but Vesnina moved back ahead by taking their most recent encounter in Miami last year. Vesnina is an awkward opponent to deal with; she serves well, and can be quite aggressive. She also moves very well, and is very accomplished at the net. Venus obviously possesses the power to blow her away, but Vesnina is the sort of opponent that can get under her skin and lure her into errors. She will not be intimidated, and why should she? She has just beaten the world number two, and has more wins than losses over Venus. Confidence should not be a problem.
"I have so much respect for Venus and Serena; they're great champions. I hope it's going to be a great match because it's always an honor to play against her."
"We've had some great battles in the past; she's won, I've won. But it's a totally different story; it's Indian Wells and I'm really enjoying my time here."
Vesnina presents a compelling case, but I’ll have to go with Venus’s power to get her through to the semi-finals.