x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Venus has too much power for plucky Peer

Venus Williams, the defending champion, overpowers the spirited Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-4 to secure her return to the final in Dubai.

Shahar Peer screams after losing a point against Venus Williams in Dubai yesterday.
Shahar Peer screams after losing a point against Venus Williams in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // Venus Williams, the defending champion, overpowered the spirited Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-4 yesterday to secure her return to the final of today's Dubai Tennis Championships and end any hopes her Israeli opponent had of finally competing on Centre Court.

The American, ranked No 5 in the world, won the Australian Open doubles title in front of 15,000 spectators last month, but yesterday found herself relegated to a secluded, isolated side-court amid heightened security concerns surrounding her opponent's participation. Peer is the first Israeli woman to compete in the UAE event. Despite the circumstances, Williams, cheered on by fewer than 1,000 people, showed immense focus to make an aggressive start in her quest to reach a second successive Dubai final. The 29-year-old quickly raced to a 4-0 lead as Peer, seven years her junior, struggled to deal with the seven-time major winner's powerful serve, while toiling to take advantage during her own service games.

When Peer, who beat two top-10 players on the way to the semi- final, finally did get on the board to trail 1-4, it came courtesy of her opponent double-faulting. "The crowd was a little visually distracting, but I was really just focused on trying to win," said Williams of the experience of playing on Court Two. "I'm not really sensitive to it at all, I just hit the ball - and hit it in a way that can win me the match."

Peer's inability to trouble Williams resulted in the 2009 Wimbledon finalist dictating play and, under mounting pressure, the Israeli repeatedly found the net when trying tactical drop-shots. But with Williams closing out the first set as comfortably as is possible in front of plain-clothed policemen, Peer, ranked 17 places below her opponent in the WTA rankings, looked every part the runner up. She was broken again in the opening game of the second set before being dominated once more by Williams's 190kph serves. However, Peer appeared for the third game a more determined figure.

After holding serve for the first time to take the score to 1-2, she battled to break Williams with a fine cross-court forehand. She then emerged victorious from an epic game that, were it not for an apparently miscued call and the absence of Hawkeye technology, would have been over without the need for the brilliant backhand volley down the line that gave Peer the lead for the first time. Williams, however, was in aggressive mood and after holding serve, broke back to regain the upper hand and although Peer showed spirit to push her opponent to a 10th game, the American's 190kph serve helped Williams close out the set.

"I think the main difference between playing against me and playing against the other players is my serve, my power and my speed. If I didn't have those, I could have been another top 10 player sent packing too," said Williams, who will meet the Belarusian Victoria Azarenka on Centre Court tonight. As Peer and Williams walked off the court, the winner put a consoling arm around Peer before the Israeli, who received a standing ovation, waved goodbye to the crowd for the last time - for this year at least.

"It was a different experience, but a nice one," said Peer. "I'm sure I will remember this tournament for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I couldn't manage to win it, which would actually be my dream, but there are no complaints. I have achieved a lot professionally and mentally and I am really happy." gmeenaghan@thenational.ae