During the first set of her second round U.S. Open match against Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams simply could not hit two successful overheads in succession. Over and over, she smashed balls into the net. It didn't help that she got in only eight of 22 first serves, and that she double-faulted five times. Making only seven unforced errors to Williams' 15, Kerber won the set 6-2.
The second set was a different story, though it took Williams four games to hold serve for the first time in the match. Williams continued to make a lot of unforced errors, but she served better, and she also enjoyed a huge swell of crowd support. Kerber, in the meantime, started thoughtlessly--and too safely--hitting the ball back to an increasingly dangerous Williams. Striking hard and coming forward aggressively, Williams overcame an obviously rattled Kerber (we've seen that before) and broke the German when she served for the match at 5-4. Williams would go on to win the set 7-5.
Kerber's funk extended to the third set. In fact, when Williams went up 4-2, Kerber looked so disgusted, it was hard to imagine that she could make any kind of comeback. But in the seventh game, the German player hit a winning stretch volley to get to break point. She waved her finger in the air, demanding that the crowd give her at least a little bit of affection, and then she smiled. It was a moment of relief for Kerber, and probably for most viewers. When Kerber gets down on herself, it's painful--but nevertheless interesting--to watch her.
The 6th seed didn't have an easy time holding after she made that stunning volley, but she did hold. That volley would prove to be a turning point. Kerber fought her way to 4-all, and broke Williams at 5-all. She then won the set 7-5, and advanced to the third round. Williams became error-prone toward the end of the match, and that was certainly part of the story, but the other part was that Kerber started returning with more forethought and authority.
That match lasted two hours and 45 minutes, and the good news for Williams fans is that Williams appeared to be physically comfortable through the entire thing.
Kerber hit only 20 winners to Williams' 43, but the German player also made only 25 unforced errors to Williams' 60. Williams double-faulted 16 times, and seven of those double faults occurred in the final set. Her game just wasn't clean enough to overcome the steady Kerber. But the game was there, and the endurance was there, and that's really good news, when we consider all that Williams has been through in the past several years.
Kerber has become dangerously proficient at winning three-set matches (19 of 22). She showed tonight that she can also overcome some really negative emotions. But she can't afford to continue to lose her edge in hitting her groundstrokes, like she did tonight for a number of games.
We've seen only two rounds, and Kerber is the last German standing. Kerber's next opponent is Olga Govortsova. If she gets past her, as expected, she'll probably have to deal with Sara Errani, and that could be interesting. Dominika Cibulkova and Agnieszka Radwanska are in Kerber's quarter, too, as are Roberta Vinci and Jelena Jankovic--a good mix of baseline stalwarts and tricky all-court players.