Italian Open 2019: Serena Williams vs Venus Williams, preview and prediction
In her last two completed matches on the WTA tour spread over more than two months, Serena Williams has faced Rebecca Peterson each time, and has won each time. At the Miami Open, she had got the better of the industrious Swedish player in three sets. But she forfeited her next match against Wang Qiang.
She then went on an extended injury break and has made her return to the game at Italian Open, in preparation for the French Open. This was her first non-Slam claycourt win since 2016, and she would like to avoid a repeat of what happened at Miami. The signs are certainly promising for the American.
Unlike that Miami encounter, her opening match at Rome saw a much more Serena-like performance, where she took a little over an hour to hand a straight-sets defeat to the Swedish star. Though she got broken once, it was a commanding performance on serve by the American, where she won a whopping 82 and 60 percent of the points on her first and second serve respectively.
But she cannot afford to relax. Her next opponent is a familiar one – her elder sister, and possibly her greatest rival, at least in the early stages of her career – the incomparable Venus Williams.
Unlike Serena though, Venus had a much more difficult opening match, against Elise Mertens. Neither Venus nor Mertens had a good outing when it came to their performance on serve. Each one was broken by the other way too frequently; Venus was broken eight times and Mertens, seven times!
After Venus pocketed the first set 7-5, Mertens made a comeback and won the second set to take the game to a decider. When Venus went a double break up and served for the match, it seemed the match had decisively swung in favour of the American.
But the tenacious Mertens broke the Williams serve and then held her own to take it to 4-5. While serving for the match a second time, Venus again let her guard down and could not seal the match, despite having match points on her own serve.
In this topsy-turvy match, when Mertens seemed to be on an upswing at 5-5, Venus broke the Belgian youngster once again. But while serving for the match, she served up another horrible game and failed to win a single point on serve.
It was fitting that a match like this, where neither player showed any kind of consistency, had to be finally decided by a tie-break - which the American veteran managed to win.
But after such a patchy performance, Venus will need to raise her level a couple of notches to be able to withstand the much more difficult challenge posed by her younger sister. Serena has won 18 of their 30 matches and on the evidence of the form shown by the two in their respective first matches at Rome, it looks quite likely that the head-to-head record will get even more skewed after their second round match here.
Prediction: Serena Williams to win in straight sets.