Williams is playing the China Open for only the ninth time, and while that sounds like a lot, it’s worth bearing in mind that the American made her debut in Beijing all the way back in 2005.
The veteran is only 4-4 at the China Open, with her best result coming in 2014 when she won back-to-back matches to make the round of 16 but gave a walkover to Petra Kvitova. Since then, Williams has lost both her subsequent matches in Beijing, going down to Ana Ivanovic in 2015 and Peng Shuai in 2016.
Williams did not play at all after the US Open in 2018, shutting down her season after a third-round defeat to sister Serena in New York, but is clearly taking a different tack in 2019 – which bodes well for her overall fitness and state of health. It feels like injury has been the keynote of Williams’s season, during which she’s frequently appeared on court with multiple body parts wrapped in tape and bandages.
The other theme of Williams’s season has been a stark disparity between her results when playing on home soil in the USA, and her results when playing in other parts of the world. With an overall win-loss of 18-13 in 2019, 11 of those 18 wins have come on American hard courts, eight of those 13 defeats when playing anywhere else, while Williams’s best results have been quarterfinal appearances at Indian Wells and in Cincinnati.
The Asian swing thus far has borne out this pattern. With Williams looking much fitter and healthier at the US Open, albeit unable to find an answer to Elina Svitolina in the second round, who won their clash 6-4, 6-4 and went on to make the semifinals, the 39-year-old opted to take a wildcard into the Wuhan Open. She lost 5-7, 6-7(5) to Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins, but is obviously fit enough to play Beijing for the first time in three years, where she opens against another player who has been a Grand Slam semifinalist in 2019 – fellow veteran Barbora Strycova
A fixture in the top 50, more usually the top 30 and sometimes the top 20 for the past five years, the 33-year-old Strycova was ranked as high as world no. 16 in January 2017. The Czech threatened to drop out of the top 50 for the first time since June 2014 in March of this year, and actually did so in June-July, but recovered herself both times, making back-to-back semifinals in International-level clay events in Istanbul and Prague in April before putting together a great grass-court season.
Grass has always been a strong surface for Strycova, who made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon in 2014 and has twice been a runner-up in Birmingham, and she flourished on it in 2019, following a run to the semifinals of the Nature Valley Classic with a brilliant run to the final four at Wimbledon – the first Grand Slam semifinal appearance of her career, earned via victories over Kiki Bertens, Elise Mertens and Johanna Konta, among others.
Strycova, who also won the Wimbledon doubles title with partner Su-Wei Hsieh and has qualified for the WTA Finals Shenzhen doubles field, was probably due for a letdown after that Wimbledon fortnight, and it certainly came on American hard courts, where she went 1-4 in Cincinnati, the Bronx and the US Open, losing to Rebecca Peterson, Daria Kasatkina, Bernarda Pera and Aliona Bolsova.
Will Strycova revive on Asian hard courts? She snapped her four-match losing streak in Wuhan when she beat Wang Xinyu, but was defeated handily by Simona Halep (always a horrible match-up for her). She has played some good tennis in Beijing in the past, however, making the quarterfinals in 2017.
What Strycova has never been able to do is beat Venus Williams. All four of their previous meetings have gone the American’s way, three of them on hard courts, and Strycova got just three games in their last meeting, which came in Montreal in 2016. However, Strycova has twice pushed Williams to three sets, and the American is not playing anywhere near as well as she was three years ago while Strycova has had some big wins this season. The Czech’s lack of outright explosiveness, especially on serve, has always hurt her against both Williams’s sisters, with her all-court game not a winning formula against the power and aggression with which Venus plays. Even with Williams struggling for form and doubtless going to go through patches of wild errors, I still think the American’s superior weapons will tell in the end in Beijing – but perhaps not before Strycova takes a set.
Williams vs Strycova China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Sunday at 2pm local/7am BST
Venus vs Strycova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Williams makes China Open return against Wimbledon semifinalist
Will Venus Williams maintain her unbeaten record against Barbora Strycova as she faces the Czech in the first round of…
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