By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) – Where mortals wilt in the spotlight, champions bask. And so it was on Monday when Venus Williams, as she has done for most of the past 18 summers, took a large, languid stride into the second round of Wimbledon.
The scoreline of her 7-6(3) 6-4 victory over Croatian Donna Vekic told one story, and many points were tight.
But the ones that really mattered could hardly have been more one-sided.
That ability to instantly switch to the sublime explains how Williams has won as many singles titles here — five — as Bjorn Borg, and can rightly be considered grasscourt royalty.
It is why the Court One crowd crackled with excitement when she emerged from the players’ tunnel. And it is why, despite being the oldest woman in the singles draw at 36, she looks in good shape to go deep in her favorite grand slam.
“I still feel 26,” the American smiled to reporters. “You know, I don’t think anyone feels older. You have this infinity inside of you that feels like you could go forever.
“That’s how I feel on the court. As long as I’m halfway decent, can get my racket on the ball, I think I can make something happen. So far so good.”
The sun had shone on an excitable crowd as Williams signaled her intentions. On the front foot, aggressive from the off, her fluid long limbs delivered an ace on the first serve of the match – point made.
At times Vekic was not so much returning the ball, as defending herself. The Williams serve bit the turf and turned into the Croatian. She ducked, she skipped out of the way, and she rocked back on her heels, swatting the ball away from her face with her racket.
Games went with serve until the seventh when Vekic, every emotion on her face, broke to take a 4-3 lead. A casual observer might have got carried away.
The inscrutable Williams trudged back to her seat before breaking straight back.
When things get tight, she fell back on an additional weapon — she knows how to volley. It was a tactic that at times had Vekic looking to the skies and shrugging her shoulders, as though Williams was somehow using an unfair advantage.
The set entered a tiebreak and here the American’s mental strength set her apart — perhaps no surprise given she is playing her 71st grand slam singles tournament, a record among current female players.
Williams forced the pace, upped her power, moved her opponent. It all proved too much for Vekic who lost it 7-3, perhaps fittingly on a double-fault.
At this point the kind of heart might say Venus was looking languid — the less kind perhaps would have described her movement as labored.
But do not be fooled by the fact she is the oldest woman in the main singles draw: Williams affected that same ponderous movement during her first visit here in 1997.
It is just what you get from Williams, incredible power play interspersed with what looks like I-can’t-be-bothered movement.
Point by point it can change. It is mentally exhausting to watch, let alone play against.
Certainly Vekic looked shattered. She quite simply melted as Williams sauntered on. It had taken almost two hours but finally, as she left the court, Williams smiled.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)