This was the first official tournament in more than five months for both sisters because of the hiatus forced by the coronavirus. They were even in quarantine together for a stretch in Florida. But while Serena remained at home with her husband, Alexis Ohanian, and their 2-year-old daughter, Olympia, Venus sought out competition by taking part in World Team Tennis at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia for nearly three weeks.
Venus did not excel there, but she looked much sharper at this tour event, the first in North America since the pandemic. She overwhelmed Victoria Azarenka, a former No. 1, in the first round, displaying a revamped service motion with a wider stance that is helping her generate more consistent pace and penetration.
“Less of a hitch in the middle,” said Pam Shriver, an ESPN analyst and a former U.S. Open singles finalist. “It’s a quicker, simpler action that feels more repeatable. The second serve sometimes reverts back with poor racket-head speed.”
Venus and her new coach, Eric Hechtman, had clearly used the break to make some adjustments to her forehand as well, and against Serena, who has won the majority of their matches through the years, Venus consistently positioned herself farther behind the baseline than usual to give herself more time to react. Even from that distance, she was often able to take the initiative and move her sister from corner to corner.
“We don’t talk a ton about what she does,” Serena said. “At the end of the day she’s a competitor, and we always play each other. But I’ve been to a ton of her practices, just as a spectator, and I saw the changes they made. And I think they are great changes.”
Double faults were still an issue, however, and Venus finished with 11. As the match wore on in the humid, 90-degree conditions, Serena began to attack Venus’s second serve more effectively, pummeling return winners.