x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Venus on course to reign again

Pavlyuchenkova puts up a brave fight but fails to prevent the defending champion from marching in to the semi-finals.

Venus Williams returns the ball to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova last night in the quarter-final.
Venus Williams returns the ball to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova last night in the quarter-final.

DUBAI // Venus Williams is homing in on a second successive Dubai Tennis Championship after dealing impressively with the serious threat of the rugged Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova last night. The 38th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova had beaten Williams in the last two of their three previous meetings and served notice that she was intending to make it a hat-trick as she roared into an early lead in their keenly-fought quarter-final.

Venus, who has gone nearly a year since claiming the last of her 41 career tournament wins, was in no mood to succumb again, however and swiftly rectified matters to secure a 6-3, 6-4 revenge victory. The largest crowd of the week were willing a pugnacious Pavlyuchenkova to extend the contest and they were delighted when the Russian averted three match points on her own serve. She saved another three match points in the ensuing Williams service game but the defending champion remained focused and would not be denied her passage into this afternoon's intriguing semi-final against Israel's Shahar Peer.

That match will take place, for security reasons, on Court Two, leaving Centre Court ticket holders with only the other semi-final between Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska and two doubles semi-finals to look forward to. Venus, in her capacity as a WTA players' representative, campaigned strongly last year for Peer to be allowed to play in this top-class event and was full of admiration for her next opponent.

"She's just a brave - she's got so much character," she said of Peer whom she has defeated on the two previous occasions they have met. "I can't imagine being in her shoes. I can't imagine playing so well with this kind of circumstance. I don't think anyone else on tour could do what she's doing." The Israeli was at the centre of a diplomatic row last year when she was refused a visa to compete at the tournament because of her nationality. The organisers were given a hefty fine by the WTA and told to ensure there would be no repeat.

Venus was also full of praise for last night's gallant opponent. "She played so aggressively and it was a really tough match for me," added the defending champion. The preceding quarter final was much more clear-cut against the expectations of those who thought it would be the pick of the round. Vera Zvonareva's exhausting run of winning seven matches in as many days - the first four of them in capturing the Pattaya title in Thailand last week - was brought a shuddering halt by Azarenka, the fourth-seeded Belarusian.

Azarenka was in command from the outset, racing through the first set in just over half-an-hour and clinched an emphatic 6-1, 6-3 victory on her second match point to earn a semi-final meeting tonight with Agnieszska Radwanska. Radwanska, the seventh seed, showed great patience in working out the flourishing talent of qualifier Regina Kulikova, who had caught the eye with an impressive conquest of French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the previous round. Kulikova, who arrived here 99th in the world but will depart expecting to be promoted to about 70th when the next rankings list is published on Monday, looked set to go even higher after outplaying her Polish opponent in the opening set. Radwanska, the elder and better of two talented sisters, gradually got the upper hand and in the end was good value for her 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory which also brings her a significant rankings reward - a career high position of eighth.

"I could have lost that match in two sets for sure," said Radwanska who remembered the hard-hitting Kulikova from their junior days but had never encountered her booming forehand on the main WTA Tour. "Sometimes she was like a wall -- no mistakes at all. It was hard to make a winner against her." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae