The result was a stunning loss (2-6, 6-3, 7-5) to Carla Suarez Navarro, ranked No. 46 who played the match of her life.
Venus was my pick to win this major but instead she became the first high-profile casualty of the fortnight. She wasn’t on her game while Suarez Navarro was aggressive, consistent and showed few signs of nerves in only her fourth Grand Slam main draw appearance.
Venus started out in complete control which makes the outcome all the more unbelievable. The No. 6 seed broke the Spaniard’s serve twice in the first set, and cruised to a 6-2 win in just 29 minutes.
But it all changed in the second set when Suarez Navarro took her game to a higher level. She twice broke Venus as she not only matched the American’s powerful baseline groundstrokes but also cleverly used a greater variety of shots, including some well-placed backhands.
The Spaniard was struck by a slew of unforced errors in the third set and Venus got out to a 5-2 lead. But there was still plenty of fight in Suarez Navarro, who managed to break Venus’ serve and went on to lead the set 6-5. She played a terrific 12th game as she served out the match.
For Venus the wheels just fell off as she lost the last five games of the deciding set and committed 37 unforced errors. Venus also served three double faults in the final set. When Venus is at her best she dictates points but for too much of this match she wasn’t in control of the points and she paid the price.
This is a storybook tale. Williams, who was playing her 44th Grand Slam singles event, faced Suarez Navarro for the first time and the Spaniard proved to have the goods to take advantage of the American on an off day. It was a big ask for Suarez Navarro to come up with a win but the ask was answered.
I thought that Venus stopped driving the ball in the second set. She started the third set beautifully and began dictating points, hitting with more depth and hitting returns harder. Everything seemed to be going well for her. It appeared to be smooth sailing and she would be done. Then with Venus up 5-2, Suarez Navarro rallied. I have to give her credit. It’s one thing to take Venus to three sets but it is another thing to keep swinging and come up with a win.
When Venus was receiving at 5-4 in the third set, I was very surprised she missed three returns. That’s unusual for her. When she was down 6-5, I thought, now Suarez Navarro is serving for the biggest match of her life, she is going to falter but she didn’t. Venus has seven Grand Slams singles wins under her belt and has played so many big matches but Suarez Navarro handled the pressure beautifully.
Venus is probably in shock right now. She came into the tournament thinking she could win her first Australian Open. She is 28 and would have loved to have added this major to her resume. She might look back, remember she was up 5-2 in the third, and not believe what happened to her.
Competing in her tenth Australian Open, and a finalist in 2003, along with being a quarterfinalist in 2002, 1999 and 1998, Venus’ worst previous performance Down Under was in 2006 when she lost in the first round to Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria. The most memorable loss she experienced recently was to qualifier Petra Kvitova, ranked No. 143, in the first round of Memphis, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 in 2008. Now add the loss to Suarez Navarro to her career lowlights.
Suarez Navarro never played the Australian Open (she failed to qualify last year). Getting used to the Rod Laver Court setting, she started slowly. Then she became more comfortable. In the beginning it was overwhelming for her to trying to adjust to the pace coming off Venus’ racquet but she got much better at it as the match went on.
Suarez Navarro is a very good athlete and a beautiful mover. She hits the ball on the rise nicely and doesn’t backup from the baseline. When you do that you rob your opponent of time. Suarez Navarro has a free flowing backhand that reminds me a lot of Justine Henin’s.
Suarez Navarro was the talk of last year’s French Open. Ranked No. 132, she qualified and reached the quarterfinals defeating Amelie Mauresmo and Flavia Pennetta before losing to Jelena Jankovic. Following her success in Paris, her ranking jumped to No. 49.
This, however, is unchartered territory for her. She is only 20 but if she plays at the level she did against Venus, she could go a long way.
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