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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Champion Venus playing it cool

Photo Titled Venus lasso

Venus applies extra spin to the ball and ends up with a lasso follow through as the defending champion begins her campaign on Centre Court.

Pressure is a strange thing. For some it is a crushing burden; for some it is a motivating force. And then there is Venus Williams.

The defending champion is back at the All England Club, her 13th visit in as many years, and got her challenge for her third consecutive title and her sixth in all off to a flying start with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Stefanie Voegele from Switzerland. After all the hullabaloo over Roger Federer’s opening match – and Wimbledon outfit – on Monday, this was an understated opening to what could be a blistering campaign.

So, did the champion feel any pressure in coming back to defend the title that she values above all others? Er, no. Not really.

“Everyone gets nervous,” she said, not sounding in the least bit nervous, concerned or edgy. “It's just, you know, how you deal with it. You have to deal with it just as you deal with not being nervous hopefully.”

Ah, so that’s how it’s done, then. Actually, the relief of anxiety is done by establishing yourself as one of the best grass court players of the modern era. Even Serena, Williams’s younger and more obviously self-confident sister, thinks that big sis is the best thing on the green stuff that she has ever seen. Wimbledon is where Venus feels comfortable. Wimbledon is where Venus feels at home. Wimbledon is where Venus believes she can always win.

“I just think that having won this title multiple times, you get that sense of what it takes to win,” she said. “And I definitely have a good grip on that, what it takes to win this title. I think that's just what it is.

“If you pick one slam to win, it's got to be this one. You know, I've always been in the position to win the others and, you know, have been just as far as the finals and ran into a pretty tough player, so was a little bit unlucky.

“But overall, you know, I feel like I had the game, and always have the game, to put myself in a position at any of the majors. So I have to just keep on trying.”

Playing against Voegele helped Williams’s cause enormously. The 19-year-old lives near Zurich and was brought up a stone’s throw (for those with a very strong throwing arm) from Roger Federer’s family home in Basel. As her serve unravelled and her hopes evaporated, she could pose no threat whatsoever to the champion – especially the champion with her eyes on another title. Williams was barely out of breath at the end of her straight sets win.

“It was pretty straightforward,” Williams admitted. “I really enjoyed being out there. It's a special moment when you walk back as defending champion on that court, throw those balls up for that first point. It's a really great feeling.

“Just playing on the grass, I think you have the opportunity to make fantastic shots that are very entertaining and great plays. I think the game is more fast‑paced. In a lot of ways, it makes it a lot more exciting, the exchanges.”

There were few exchanges to trouble her in the opening round, leaving Williams with plenty left in the tank for the challenges that are to come. With Kateryna Bondarenko to face in the second round and her sister safely tucked away in the other half of the draw, she is keeping the nerves in check with some ease. Only the bookies are ramping up the expectation and have her as second favourite, a gnat’s whisker behind her sister. No pressure, then, Venus.

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