By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Venus Williams’ game face is unlike any other in the sport. She grimaces and grunts her way through mishit forehands and extended rallies that have her sprinting far more often than most 38-year-olds.

But she rarely lets it be known during a match that she actually has fun out on the court — the few signs usually coming during her twirl following a win or when she decides to show off a few dance moves. Stern-faced and battle-ready, from the hardened veteran’s temperament one could easily interpret that she simply doesn’t enjoy tennis.

That interpretation would be wrong.

The seven-time Grand Slams champion and former World No. 1 was all smiles in her 6-3, 6-1 dominant win over No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina. Grinning to her mom, sister, and coach in her box following punishing forehands and beaming up at a vocal supporter in the stands — the same ardent fan who adorned her and Sloane Stephens with cheers and positive vibes at the 2018 Miami Open, you could see the love on her face for the game to which she has devoted her professional life.

“Well, I’m always having fun,” Williams said about being on the court,” I just have never smiled this much on court. Even on some points that I lose.”

In a topsy-turvy first set, Williams and Kasatkina trade six consecutive breaks of serve to make it 3-all before the former finally held. From there, she won each game en route to taking the first set 6-3. The edge she ended the first set with carried over into the second, as Williams raced out to a 5-0 lead. With a chance for Williams to serve for the match, Kasatkina showed some grit to avoid posting a bagel and broke the three-time Miami Open winner.

Failing to serve it out didn’t ultimately shake Williams, who broke right back to finalize the upset and secure a spot in the fourth round, where she will go against the top remaining seed — No. 2 Simona Halep.

Asked about that next matchup, she responded, “She always plays flawless tennis against me, so I have to be ready for that. Every match is a different match… I know each point will be an opportunity for me to play better and learn.”

The crowd, which was passionately behind the Palm Beach Gardens resident who calls the Miami Open her home tournament, was electrified by the overhead smash hit by Williams to seal the match win. She was asked after her victory about the unmistakable increase in her smiles per match.

“I think there’s just a lot to smile for.”

No further questions. Smile all you want, Venus. You’re through to the fourth round.