For some, the Lazarus Effect is nothing more than a bad horror movie. To others, it’s a miracle of coming back from the dead. For me, it’s watching Venus Williams.
Is there any player who seems to come back from the (figurative) dead more than Venus Williams? It’s more than just coming back from the brink of defeat — no, it’s coming back from that down and out looking place, where she doesn’t seem to have enough energy to cross the court to receive serve on the next point, much less come back from two breaks down in the second set and a break down in the final set.
Yet, that is exactly what Venus did against Petra Kvitova today.
Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova have faced off eight times — well, seven, actually, because there was one walkover — and, surprisingly, only two of the eight matches have taken place in the quarterfinals or later in a tournament. Today’s blockbuster was a second round match — and, really more like a first round for the higher seeds, like Kvitova. Needless to say, it’s a brutal draw for the players, and an absolute popcorn match for the fans.
That isn’t to say that it started out looking too promising. After holding even for the first eight games of first set, Kvitova struck first, breaking Venus and winning the first set, and going on to break Venus’ serve twice more to run up a 3-0 lead in the second set. At this point, Venus had that deceptively lethargic look she sometimes gets in matches, making it seem even more unlikely that she could stop the momentum of a fired-up Kvitova.
Sometimes, it’s hard to even say how Venus manages to claw her way back into these matches. Sure, she hit some amazing groundstrokes, and put together some nice serves and volleys when she needed them. And, sure, Kvitova, who, like Venus goes big in her play, contributed some errors to the cause. But this was less a momentum shift between Kvitova and Venus than it was simply Venus simply hanging in there — through the onslaught of Kvitova’s strong play, through the groups of her own errors, and through the mental stress that comes with such an up and down match. And in the end, the victory was not overpowering as much as it was more like a pickpocketing. Indeed, Kvitova spent much of the match in the lead, only to have Venus pull even at the end of the second and third sets, and then steal a break in each first to secure a set, and then to take the match.
For Kvitova, the loss is disappointing — she’s been riding a wave of confidence, with her Australian Open finals appearance, and steady momentum and had reached a consistent level of play that was the best of her comeback over the last two years. Still frustrated with herself after the match, Kvitova conceded that it had been a “weird” match, but noted that she had given Venus an opening by double faulting when up 4-3 with a break in the third set. While she explained that Venus played better at the end of the match, she smiled ruefully when told that Venus had said that she didn’t always know what would come off of her own racquet during the match, saying “it was the same for me.”
As for Venus, she acknowledged that she faced a tall task to come back, saying, “being down in those last two sets, it’s definitely not easy to turn it around, that’s for sure.” And, anyone who has watched Venus play has seen her grit and determination. But, as Venus reflected further, the real secret to her ability to come back came out — optimism. Indeed, Venus walked away from today’s match not lamenting the play that got her into the hole, but relishing her ability to get out, saying “I like to know that I have opportunities all the time, and I can create those. And, so even when it’s not looking great, I know the match isn’t over yet.”