By David Packman
In clearly the most entertaining tie of Hyundai Hopman Cup 2013 thus far, Venus Williams has led USA to a thrilling 2-1 victory over France, keeping their unbeaten record at this year’s event intact.
After backing up a spirited come-from-behind win in her singles rubber, Williams repeated the dose in a seesawing mixed doubles encounter in which she paired with John Isner to defeat the French duo of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mathilde Johansson 6-7(5) 6-2 [10-8.]
In a riveting affair that had the crowd on the edge of their seats, both teams put on a fabulous display from the very outset. After trading early breaks, the first set remained evenly poised with Williams dominant from the baseline and Isner impenetrable on serve for the Americans.
At the other end, Tsonga was bringing his customary flamboyance and athleticism to the fore and was ably supported by Johansson, who was enjoying a night out with some superb tennis.
As it was, the Americans brought up three consecutive set points against serve at 5-4 and again at 6-5 but Tsonga and Johansson raised their level each time to hold on and force the first set into a tiebreaker.
Williams and Isner surged ahead early to take a 5-2 lead but some sensational tennis from the French pairing saw them win five points in a row to take the tiebreak 7-5.
With all players on court clearly showing some wear and tear after their singles encounters, it was a case of throwing caution to the wind, which made for some additional risk-taking and thus, some spectacular tennis for the crowd.
With Venus arguably the dominant player on court, the Americans started to show their class in the second set, and quickly leveled proceedings after taking the set 6-2.
As the pairs entered a match tiebreaker to decide both the mixed doubles rubber and the tie, it was still very much anyone’s for the taking. At 7-5, Williams and Isner took the early advantage but the exciting French duo would not lie down, a lifting to equal proceedings at 7-7.
Once again, though, Williams poured on the heat and provided the impetus to give USA two match points. Fittingly, it was Isner who finished it with a powerful serve to Johansson whose shaky return was easily dispatched, handing a famous victory to the Americans.
Venus’s great escape
By Darren Saligari
American Venus Williams has come back from the edge of defeat to level the tie against France.
Despite being a set and 4-1 down, Williams lifted just as Mathilde Johansson dipped and pulled off one of the great escapes, winning the match 3-6 7-5 6-4.
“Mathilde’s a tough player. She hits the ball hard and low, and I’m tall so it’s hard to get low,” Williams said.
“I was just thinking, at least if I’m going to lose this match, I was going to try to work on my game. In the end, I got a win for the US.”
Early on, Johansson played a fearless brand of tennis, going for winners off both wings and painting the lines much to the delight of the crowd and surprise of Williams.
Williams, however, looked far from her best. The American didn’t cover the court as well as she can and her forehand mis-fired more often than it found its mark. Johansson seized on Williams’s misfortune and pressed her case, hitting for the lines and ramping up the pressure on the struggling Williams.
Refusing to give in, Williams started to find her range just as errors began to creep into Johansson’s game. Johansson continued to go for her shots, but instead of hitting the lines, she started to miss. It was enough for Williams to get back into the match. Trailing 4-1 in the second set, Williams reeled off three games before securing the decisive break in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead before serving out the set.
The final set was an arm wrestle until the seventh game when Williams got the elusive break. Johansson had three chances of her own to break back in the next game, but was unable to make the most of her opportunities. With danger safely averted, Williams confidently served out the match, finishing with an ace to level the tie at 1-1.
The American duo will now take on France in the live mixed doubles rubber.