TORONTO — Venus Williams threw up her hands, palms facing skyward, and she walked to her court-side seat while she shook her head and talked to herself. The seven-time major champion tossed her white towel on the ground, then fell heavily into her chair.
She’d hit just 38 per cent of her first serves in the first set. She double-faulted twice. She was broken three times.
The second set against World No. 5, Elina Svitolina—the 22-year-old who was born the same year Williams turned pro—didn’t go much better.
And so the biggest draw (previously) remaining at the Rogers Cup in Toronto is done. Says Svitolina, the author of Williams’s departure: "It was a great privilege to share the court with her—and, yeah, it was even better to beat her…"
You have to like that candor.
Williams, the World No. 9 who’s played in two Grand Slam finals this year, bowed out after a 6-2, 6-1 loss on the Aviva Centre main stage. The match took only an hour, and Williams again fell short of advancing to the quarterfinals in a city in which she’d yet to win a single match before this week.
Svitolina, a four-time winner on the WTA this year, and eight-time overall, was a formidable opponent. The 22-year-old Ukrainian had four aces in her first service game alone. She ran down the powerful ground strokes Williams served up to one corner and then the other and then back again.
Williams, 37, the owner of 49 WTA titles (the last came in 2016) had the crowd on her side. "Come on, Venus!" was the popular refrain.
Svitolina didn’t feel like the favourite, even if she was at least on paper, ranked four seeds higher than one of her childhood idols.
"(I’ve known) Venus for many years," Svitolina said. "And, you know, when they announce that she turned professional in 1994 and I was just born in this year, I was like, okay, then I need to work really hard in this match."
Well, the strategy worked. A broad grin crossed Svitolina’s face when it was pointed out she has now beaten both Williams sisters. "It feels amazing," she said, beaming underneath the brim of a blue Nike ball cap. "It brings me a lot of confidence."
The toughest part about playing an opponent like Williams—who absolutely pummels the ball, with a noticeable difference in pace to some of her ground strokes compared to others in this field—is her experience, if you ask Svitolina.
Up 2-0 in the second set, Svitolina watched Williams respond with an ace and a forehand winner to go up 30-0. "These kind of things you don’t really expect from other players, because sometimes under pressure they do something not normal, not the right thing," she said.
"You really need to wait to look for your opportunities when you play such experienced players. Don’t let them have any chances because otherwise you can just get killed."
Williams, who was introduced as "37 years young" by the on-court announcer, didn’t do much killing Thursday. She not only struggled with her serve, but also pummeled more than a few attempted winners wide or long. After a couple miss-hits, she stood on the court with her hands on her hips, staring across the net. It just wasn’t her night.
And that’s been the trend for Williams here in Toronto. She first played in this tournament as a 15-year-old, and it took her 22 years to win a WTA match in the city. It’s fitting that those elusive Toronto wins happened this season, one of the best she’s had recently. The reason she’s playing so well of late, she said, earlier this week: "Mostly, I do want to win."
Well, win No. 50 on the WTA circuit won’t happen this year in Toronto.
There now are eight women standing, set for Friday’s quarterfinal. The list includes some big guns, like World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.
But the biggest gun of all in this field—though she’s the elder stateswoman at 37, though she’s lower-ranked than many still in the hunt, though she’s been a pro as long as some have been alive—is going home.