VENUS OUTDUELS QUALIFIER JAKUPOVIC TO REACH SECOND ROUND
By Tucker Verdi
Miami Gardens, FL — Venus Williams is through to the second round of the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. She gets there by way of a 7-5, 6-3 second round victory over qualifier Dalila Jakupovic.
Stepping onto Stadium Court, the 91st-ranked Slovenian qualifier Jakupovic was about to play her first main draw match at the WTA Premier Mandatory level. For the 27-year-old, it was a talk task to win under those circumstances — even before considering the player across the net from her.
One being a giant of the game and the other a novice on the biggest stage, the gap in experience between Williams and Jakupovic gave the former a considerable mental and physical edge. The winner of seven Grand Slams, Williams is marking her record 20th appearance at the Miami Open, where she has won three singles titles.
But on the new Stadium Court at Williams’ home tournament, Jakupovic did not play like someone who had never been at this level before. She was aggressive and bold, breaking the elder Williams sister during two of the American’s first three service games. The 37-year-old Williams’ came out strong with a hold at love, but in the next two service games her serve was considerably slower than usual and she appeared sluggish in getting to balls well within her reach.
Williams — who spent a good deal of the match grimacing after long points, eventually found somewhat of a groove in the first set, relying on excellent net play and unforced errors by her opponent to break back twice and get back on serve at 4-all.
“She hit a lot of great shots,” the five-time Wimbledon champ acknowledged. “She really plays the angles well and [is] definitely a real competitor. I was just trying to get a feel for what her shot selection is like.
“I had never played her before so you don’t know what to expect, but I felt the crowd behind me every single [point].”
From there, the breaks continued to flow as Jakupovic broke Williams a third time, and then Williams issued a rare challenge on a shot by Jakupovic that landed wide to do the same. The Michigan-born, Compton-raised tennis superstar would record the first hold in four games to go up 6-5. An errant forehand in the next game by Jakupovic would give Williams the first set 7-5.
In the second, Jakupovic’s errors increased to a level where she was basically giving away points to Williams. The frustration on the Slovenian’s face was evident as the mental edge she had after pushing Williams on her serve vanished.
Williams dished out her first ace on game point to go up 3-0 and, despite being broken while serving for the match and giving up three match points, she held on to claim the second set and match 7-5, 6-3.
Asked where she finds the motivation and determination to continue her already-historic career, Williams’ response was simple.
“I get it from my mom,” Williams said. “Growing up in my home, we weren’t allowed to be weak, so it just wasn’t an option. The only option was to be strong. You had a choice of being strong or being strong, so we were strong.”
Currently ranked 43rd in the world, Williams will take on No. 24 seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round. The two have met five times over the past ten years, with the American holding a 4-1 edge.
Suarez Navarro won their first bout in the second round of the 2009 Australian Open when she upset the 6th seed Williams. However, Williams has won the past four matchups, all of which have occurred at the Grand Slam or Premier Mandatory level.