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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 19, 2023


Venus Williams, 43, showed champion's character fighting off Camila Giorgi 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(6) in an epic three hour, 16-minute Birmingham battle.

Photo credit: Stephen Pond/Getty for LTA

The court-side clock crept past three hours, sweat soaked the lavender brace wrapping her right knee and a match point slipped through her grip.

Master multi-tasker Venus Williams was too busy turning back time to be bothered by any of it.

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Empowered by deep desire, the 43-year-old Williams fought off Camila Giorgi 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(6) in an epic three hour, 16-minute Birmingham battle that saw both women light up the baseline with blasts.

When Giorgi's final shot missed the mark, Williams shattered her stoic game face unleashing a couple of hearty fist pumps and "Come on! Come on!" erupting in elation.

"It was touch and go there, and I felt the support," Williams said. "I thought I played really well today, and she played incredible."

The seven-time Grand Slam champion had cause for celebration.

This was Williams' first WTA match win since she beat compatriot Katie Volynets 7-6(4), 6-2 on January 2nd for her first Tour-level win in more than a year at the ASB Classic in Auckland.

It is Williams' first Top 50 win in nearly four years and her first grass-court win since she defeated Mihaela Buzarnescu in the 2021 Wimbledon first round.

Williams suffered a torn hamstring injury in her second-round Auckland loss to Lin Zhu that forced her to withdraw from the 2023 Australian Open in January. 

The injury set her on a five-month rehab and caused her ranking to drop to No. 697 prior to her stirring grass-court return today. Williams crashed to the court midway through the opening set, took treatment for her leg and seemed to press back tears during the seventh game changeover, yet she soldiered on through it all refusing to yield.

The owner of 49 career titles will face either second-seeded former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko or Linda Noskova next.

If the seven-time Grand Slam champion watches a replay of this match, she should be pleased with:

*The fight and fervor she showed over a three-hour battle.

*Crisp ball-striking from the very first game. Coming off lengthy layoffs in the past, Williams has sometimes struggled to shake the rust. Not today.

*Hitting her serve with conviction and clarity. Facing the ultra-aggressive returner in Giorgi, who seldom meets a ball she doesn't believe she can hammer on the rise, Williams served 65 percent, pumped eight aces against four double faults and rocked the radar gun with a few 120 mph serves.

Though she tightened a bit and failed to serve out the match at 5-3, Williams went after her serve in the breaker banging the body serve effectively.

Some people make New Year's resolutions, while Williams continues to live them out.

During a physical therapy session she posted to her YouTube channel back in March, Williams vowed she would do her best to return for grass. 

Today, she delivered a passionate performance of a champion who still craves the competition. 

This was a match of heavy hitting, down the line drives and drama.

Wild card Williams came out firing, hammering heavy groundstrokes and hitting her way to a 3-0 lead.

Holding a 3-2 lead, Williams, wearing Lacoste sneakers, took an injury time-out to treat her leg then broke into tears after the seventh-game changeover.

There were head games and stare downs. Giorgi turned her back to Williams a couple of times as the former No. 1 was set to serve, yelled "come on!" after winning a point that saw Williams crash to the grass and nearly nailed her opponent hitting an out ball as the wild card walked to the ad side of the court. A few times, Williams paused to look over at Giorgi as if signaling she knew what was going down and didn't appreciate it.

Williams, already giving Giorgi a look when the Italian turned her back to the court while the American was set to serve, stared across the baseline again. Then Williams pumped a pair of aces out wide on the ad side holding for 5-3.

Serving for the first set at 5-4, Williams netted a backhand to face break point. Giorgi got the best of a crosscourt forehand exchange, spread Williams wide, then slammed the forehand swing volley to break back.

Deadlocked at 4-4 in the first-set tiebreaker, Giorgi hit one of her 10 double faults. Williams whipped the body serve for set point and closed the opening set with a big backhand.

Giorgi is listed at 5-foot-6, but her tremendous timing and booming flat groundstrokes make her one of the Tour's biggest hitters. Giorgi was stepping into the court and battering drives down the line as she broke to open the second set, sparking her to a 4-1 lead.

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On her third set point, Giorgi closed the second set to force a decider. The 31-year-old Italian looked fresher at that point, but Williams was in no mood for consolation prizes todays.

Standing toe-to-toe in a crackling crosscourt backhand exchange, Williams drew a netted two-hander to break for a 2-0 lead in the decider.

The four-time Olympic gold-medal champion wasn't wasting time on serve. Williams slammed her eighth ace out wide backing up the break with a bang for a 3-0 lead in the decider.

An assertive Giorgi was stepping a few feet inside the baseline to try to take the Williams second serve on the rise. Pushed to deuce in the fifth game, Williams unloaded some biting body serves, jamming Giorgi up to hold for 4-1.

Wild card Williams served for the second round at 5-3, but Giorgi bulleted a backhand winner then poked a backhand pass down the line breaking back. 

It all escalated into a pressure-packed and wild third-set tiebreaker.

Williams was up 4-3 when Giorgi pounded a near perfect return down the line. The lunging American made a desperate dig get it back, Giorgi had a mid-court sitter but smothered it into net as Williams went up 5-3.

Fortune favored Giorgi, who was jammed by a body serve, but framed back a self-preservation return off the throat of her red Yonex that dropped over net to cut the lead to 4-5.

Williams scalded a deep return down the middle for her first match point. The big-hitting Giorgi crashed a forehand winner to save match point.  Two points later, Giorgi's final backhand missed the mark and Williams was through.


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