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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, October 24, 2017

 
Venus Williams

A resilient Venus Williams rallied to win the final three games fighting off Jelena Ostapenko, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-5, in a three-hour, 13-minute thriller.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

Another Jelena Ostapenko blast buzzed by her, but Venus Williams barely blinked.

Tugging on her visor, Williams fixed her focus on the ball.

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More than three hours into a titanic struggle, Williams’ warrior calm carried her through a fierce fight.

The 37-year-old Williams withstood 48 winners from Ostapenko fending off the French Open champion, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-5, in a marathon match at the WTA Finals.

Apart from a quiet “come on” late in the third set, Williams barely uttered a word during the three hour, 13-minute thriller, but her raging competitive spirit could not be quieted.

In a match that featured 20 service breaks and saw Ostapenko build a 5-3 first-set lead and a 5-4 advantage in the decider, Williams refused to wilt against an explosive opponent 17 years younger.

“Sometimes you need some luck,” Williams told Andrew Krasny afterward. “I don’t know if there was any luck for me tonight. I just had to work for every point. Everyone is playing really well here so I’m just really lucky to get through tonight.”




The four-time Olympic gold medal champion raised her round-robin record to 1-1 in White Group play, while Ostapenko dropped to 0-2 after collaborating on the third longest WTA Finals match since 2008.

Both women competed with deep desire.

Ultimately, Williams’ stubborn defense, shot discipline on crucial points, some daring first serves and her sheer defiance proved pivotal.

“It’s not easy to lose the first match,” Williams said. “You have to fight. What else can you do but fight to live another day?”

The slower surface afforded Ostapenko time to set up for her sweeping swings. She pummeled Williams’ second serve with punishing returns.




A crackling forehand return winner down the line gave Ostapenko a third break point and when Williams scattered a double fault, the Latvian broke for 3-2.

The pair combined for five service breaks in the first seven games.

Eighteen years after her WTA Finals debut, Williams showed the speed, court coverage and tenacity to soak up Ostapenko’s pace. Playing determined defense, the 37-year-old veteran repelled a series of crosscourt drives coaxing successive errors for her second straight hold for 6-5.

Ostapenko, who had seen her 5-3 lead dissipate, called for her coach then held game point to force the tie break but could not close. A netted backhand gave Williams set point.

The seventh seed put the American on the run but sprayed a backhand down the line. Empowered by a four-game run, Williams’ stubborn defense and guile helped her snatch the 57-minute opening set.




Willliams converted four of five break points, while Ostapenko betrayed her own cause serving 43 percent and doubling her opponent’s error output (17 to 8) in the set.

An emboldened Williams powered through a love hold—her most convincing hold of the match—to start the second set. Hitting her forehand with some sidespin to drag Ostapenko wide, Williams surged through her sixth straight game for a 2-0 lead.

Continuing to crack returns when the ball sat up in her strike zone, Ostapenko banged out a fourth break to finally stall her six-game slide. Aided by a net-cord winner, the 20-year-old aggressive baseliner held to level then broke for her third consecutive game.




Regaining her rhythm, Williams broke back in the sixth game and slashed an ace out wide holding for 4-3.

A curling crosscourt forehand from Williams elicited an error for match point. Ostapenko saved it when Williams netted a forehand and worked through a hard-fought hold for 5-all.

A blistering forehand from Ostapenko capped another break giving her the chance to serve for the second set about an hour after she unsuccessfully served for the first.

Amping up her aggression, Williams stepped inside the baseline driving the ball with authority to break back and force a tie break.

Five straight mini breaks opened the tie break before Williams narrowly missed a backhand down the line as Ostapenko went up 4-2 at the two-hour mark. Ostapenko converted her second set point when Williams bumped a slice backhand into net sending this drama into a decisive third set.




In the second set, Ostapenko doubled Williams’ winners—20 to 10—and converted all three break points.

After a bathroom break, Ostapenko made a major stand fighting off five break points to start the final set. Williams answered with a love hold.

A tendency to toss too far to the left—as well as a habit of decelerating her swing on pivotal points—conspired to cost Ostapenko, who coughed up her 10th double fault then sprayed a backhand gifting the first break of the final set.

Spunky competitive spirit and a bold willingness to continue cranking her flat strikes down the line are Ostapenko strengths she applied breaking back in the fourth game.

Williams’ flat forehand can sometimes stray under pressure, but she imparted appropriate spin sending the ball slithering wide forcing an error to break for 3-2. Calm and patience put Williams back in charge, 4-3, with the fifth consecutive break of the decider.

Tension ratcheted up after two hours, 45-minutes of play, but Ostapenko wasn’t showing any restraint. She blitzed a backhand down the line breaking back.

In a pulsating ninth game, Ostapenko saved break points holding for the first time since the first game of the set.

Serving to extend the match, Williams zapped her third ace forging 5-all.

The drama escalated past three hours when Williams attacked behind a return and was in prime position to earn the break but nudged a volley into net. An outrageous Ostapenko backhand winner down the line denied a third break point.

Undeterred, Williams rifled a forehand return down the line for a fourth break point and broke for 6-5 on her opponent's wild miss.




Thumping her fourth ace brought Williams triple match point.

Fittingly, Ostapenko went down swinging, firing one final forehand to save a match point. Williams unleashed a brilliant slice serve to set up a banging backhand that closed a spirited battle.

"Honestly all credit to her," Williams said. "She just came out with a lot of shots, shots you just can’t prepare for.

"hat’s why she’s here: Because she has that kind of talent. I was just happy to win that last point."


 

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