Saturday, March 9, 2019 - Venus Williams plays Petra Kvitova in the 2nd round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)
It’s been somewhat of a revival tournament for Venus Williams.
Prior to her run to the quarterfinal here in the southern California desert, she was a mere 4-2 on the season, falling in both of her January tournaments (Auckland and the Australian Open) after only two wins. With her tournament schedule limited, the ubiquitous American – a former World No. 1 and seven-time Grand Slam champion – finds herself at No. 36 in the WTA rankings with semifinal points to defend from last year.
So what does Williams do?
She comes out of the gates blazing at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, overcoming a tricky first-round against Andrea Petkovic, before fashioning a brilliant upset of No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova courtesy of some vintage Venus form. Straight-sets wins over Christina McHale and Mona Barthel showed that the Kvitova victory wasn’t just a flash in the pan and that the 38-year-old is as much a title threat this week as she is a legend.
“I was pretty determined this year,” admitted Williams about her lack of recent match play. “I haven’t played that much, so I wanted to make it count.
“It’s not going to get any easier from here, so I just have to continue to raise my game.”
A combined 🔟 Grand Slam titles.
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 14, 2019
Standing in the way of her and a second-consecutive semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open is a player of similar pedigree – Slam champion and formerly top-ranked – yet of significantly less recognition. That’s all to say, Venus won’t be underestimating her – No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber is as tricky as it gets for power players.
Just ask Aryna Sabalenka, Kerber’s fourth-round opponent. The Belarusian was in the driver’s seat, racing towards victory before the German’s awe-inspiring court coverage and signature lefty passing shots snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Thriving off the pace of the game’s ball bruisers, Kerber’s counterpunching has helped her reach her third quarterfinal in the desert.
“I don’t think you can prepare for these conditions and for these courts,” said Kerber after her third-round victory. “I think here it’s always special to play, because also of the weather conditions and the courts are slow and you have to go for it.
“It’s more that you try to improve every single day when you are here and [be] confident about your game plan.”
With both players looking confident coming into their highly-anticipated quarterfinal, it will all boil down to just that: game plan. The head-to-head is a relatively even 5-3 in favor of Kerber, but Venus has looked as solid as ever.
Who will come out on top?