Throughout the Rogers Cup this week, Venus Williams has been showing the world that, aged 34, she can still produce the tennis that brought her seven Grand Slam titles. In the final today, however, she showed us something else: how difficult it is to play six matches in six days.
Venus came into this showpiece on the back of her best result in years, a three-set defeat of sister Serena. She held a 5-3 advantage in her head-to-head with Agnieszka Radwanska, and knew she was playing well enough to hit through the Pole. In her five matches leading up to the final, she’d been serving brilliantly and dominating baseline exchanges with athletic defence and breathtaking hitting.
Yet it was clear from the get-go today that those famous long legs were feeling the effects of their exertions. Although she managed an impressive initial hold and pushed Radwanska in her opening service games, Venus began spraying balls long and wide. Aga, playing solidly but not spectacularly, capitalised on those errors and opened a 4-1 lead.
Venus may have been running on fumes, but she doesn’t know how to surrender and that fabled fight was on show in the next game. Williams dominated the first three points to set up a trio of break points, and although each slipped from her grasp, she remained focussed. She forced a couple of errors from Radwanska and broke back at the fifth time of asking. When she held comfortably in the next game to close the gap to 3-4, it looked as though she might be able to will herself back into contention.
At this point of the match the rallies were varied and entertaining, but it was becoming clear that the longer they went on, the more they favoured Radwanska. The third seed’s serve, particularly her second delivery, remained a liability, but she was hitting cleanly from the back of the court and refusing to be bullied by Venus.
With Radwanska serving for the set at 5-4, Venus signalled her intention with a beautifully struck forehand that landed right in the corner of the court. Unfortunately for her, that was to be her last standout moment of the set. She hit a dreadful drop shot to hand Radwanska set points, before gifting the first stanza entirely with another wayward groundstroke.
Four of Venus’ last five matches had gone the distance – did she have enough in the tank to launch another comeback, this time against one of the tour’s most tireless operators? The auspices were poor when Venus dropped serve at the beginning of the second set and Aga held for a 2-0 lead. But the American mustered all her mental energy in the next game, setting up three break points with a clever mix of angles and depth in one of the best rallies of the match. Radwanska saved the first with a calm and collected move forward and snuffed out the second with an ace, only to go wide on the next point.
Getting back to 2-all would prove to be Venus’ final achievement. Rather than building on her momentum, she played an error-strewn service game to hand the advantage straight back to her opponent. Indicating her frazzled state of mind, she then welcomed an ultra-rare appearance from long-term hitting partner David Witt, who advised her to get more serves in, come to the net and use more angles.
In fact, it was Radwanska who did all those things for the remainder of the match. With an increasingly fatigued Venus making errors from all over the court, Aga beat a composed path to the finish line, slicing and changing direction with panache. She secured a double break lead, and and at 5-2, 40-0, hit her third ace of the match to win her first trophy of the season.
“I’ve always liked Canada. Now I love Canada!” said Radwanska in her victory speech. Venus, disappointed but graceful as ever in defeat, told a surprised crowd that she’d never previously won a match in Montreal and was looking forward to coming back.
Venus’s resurgence has understandably been the focus of attention this week, but the Rogers Cup also represents a significant turnaround for Radwanska. After a difficult few months on the circuit, the 25-year-old is back in the winners’ circle and must now be considered a serious contender for the US Open. Perhaps most encouraging was the manner in which she earned her silverware. As well as beating Venus for the third time in a row, she dispatched recent bete-noire Ekaterina Makarova and scored a morale-boosting win over perennial nemesis Victoria Azarenka.
Both Montreal finalists will now head to Cincinnati for the Western and Southern Open, another lucrative Premier 5 event. As a top seed, Radwanska will receive a bye into the second round, but the unseeded Venus will have only one day of rest before playing her opening match.
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