Venus Williams of the U.S. hits a return to Ana Ivanovic of Serbia during their women's singles match at the WTA Dubai Tennis Championships, February 19, 2014. Photo by Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters.
DUBAI - Venus Williams is close to her best again, according to Ana Ivanovic, the former world number one from Serbia, who managed to take only three games off the seven times former Grand Slam winner at the Dubai Open on Wednesday.
The 33-year-old American was certainly impressive in the second round clash which saw her romp to a 6-2, 6-1 victory and a place in the quarter-finals.
Despite her age, low ranking which sees her outside the world top 40, and repeated health problems, she produced such consistently controlled power that she was unlike the player whom Ivanovic had beaten in the final at Auckland last month.
Her ground strokes were punishing and her serve was consistent, which brought 19 clean winners and five aces in a difficult breeze, but she also had few unforced errors, so often a thermometer of her game.
Asked how close to the best Venus Williams this is, Ivanovic said: "I think it's very close. We played many times in the past. This is her game, you know.
"She was being really aggressive and playing really deep on both wings. I tried even to maybe slice a few, but I just didn't feel like I had too many opportunities."
It followed Venus' similarly impressive performance on Monday when she overcame Elena Vesnina, a Russian she had never previously beaten, all of which encourages her to believe that she is making real progress.
"I learned a lot from that match," Venus said of the Auckland defeat.
"I have improved a lot since then, too. I have had to take some tough losses, but I have learned from them, and, you know, made them constructive. That's what I'm trying to do each time."
Venus might ordinarily feel confident about further progress, except that she is scheduled first on Thursday, despite having played a late night doubles with sister Serena, which the Williams lost 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 to Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova, the Australian Open finalists.
"We thought we'd be able to play Monday and then space it out," said Venus.
"But here we are playing in the middle of the night.
"We would like to play (together), especially a tournament where the singles draw is a little smaller (like Dubai), so we thought it would be a great chance for us to play some doubles. Instead we ended up both playing night matches, so that didn't work out well."
At least Serena will be able to wait until the evening to play her quarter-final match which will be against Jelena Jankovic, another former world number one from Serbia.
Jankovic's 7-5, 6-4 success over Lucie Safarova, a more than useful Czech left-hander, was achieved in her second successive match on an outside court with plenty of breeze and without the use of the video review system for difficult calls.
The last meeting between Jankovic and Serena Williams was close and contentious last year.
It saw Jankovic almost prevent Williams from winning the WTA Championships year-end title in Istanbul, and later appearing to question her sportsmanship.
"Doesn't matter," Jankovic answered tersely referring to her challenge of playing women's tennis most famous player.
"I'm going to have a challenge for the first time.
"It will be exciting to be back on centre court and to be playing Serena Williams. It's going to be our first match this season and I look forward to it."
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