American superstar Venus Williams fired a warning shot ahead of the Australian Open, crushing one of her main rivals Maria Sharapova in Hong Kong with a ruthless display of power tennis on Saturday. Williams was unremitting in her onslaught against the Russian world number four, clinching a straight sets victory in the final of the JB Group Classic 6-4, 6-3 in just 80 minutes.
Despite occasionally reaching for the hamstring she twinged in Friday's victory over Russian Elena Dementieva, the Wimbledon champion smashed a string of aces and her speed round the court proved it was no serious hindrance.
Williams said the game had given her a real boost ahead of the first Grand Slam event later this month. "Obviously, she is a very good opponent, so I definitely had to bring my best game," the 27-year-old told reporters. "So it is very exciting, especially going into the Australian, playing so well against someone of her calibre. I knew I was playing well in practice, but a match is different ... to have that competition makes a huge difference," said the world number eight, who has not played a competitive game since October, graduating from design college in the interim.
An attritional first set hinged on just two points, after the first nine games had gone with serve. Williams clinched the break on a unusually long rally in the 10th game, forcing Sharapova to hit a backhand into the net. She then forced another mistake on break point to take the set. Sharapova seemed unable to cope with the depth of Williams's ground strokes and despite several attempts to smash her way back into the game had to submit after losing her serve in the sixth game of the second set. The Russian saved two championship points when 5-2 down, but Williams rapped up the game appropriately enough with a heavy serve, setting up an easy forehand winner. "Venus must be one of the few who can arrive the day before the tournament and end up winning," said Sharapova after the game. "When your opponent is serving big and consistently well, you need to take the opportunities on second serve and I think I did a poor job of that," she told reporters after the game. "It felt like a matter of three or four points here and there which would have easily changed this, but that is what tennis is about," she added.
The four-day Hong Kong annual invitational featured five of the world's top 10 players and is used as a warm up for the Open in Melbourne.Three tournaments so far this year, three pathetic failures by Russia's top players.