Tennis

Venus cruises; Nadal has to work hard

Venus Williams reacts to a rare poor shot to Patricia Maria Tig during today's match at the Miami Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne on Sunday, March 26, 2017.
Venus Williams reacts to a rare poor shot to Patricia Maria Tig during today's match at the Miami Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne on Sunday, March 26, 2017. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

At 36 years old, Venus Williams is the oldest player in the Miami Open women’s draw, but as she’s come to understand advancing age isn’t a factor in her career longevity.

In fact, Williams isn’t thinking retirement; she’s thinking future tennis goals.

After securing a 6-3, 6-0 third-round win over Romanian qualifier Patricia Maria Tig at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Sunday, the five-time Olympic medalist — four are in shiny gold — was contemplating being in position to collect more medals.

“Yeah, 2020, here I come,” she said, smiling, in not her first suggestion that she hopes to be playing long enough to compete at the Tokyo Games.

Nevertheless, before the 12th-ranked Williams can worry about the next Olympics, she needs to focus on the present.

And that would currently be a pursuit of a fourth career Miami Open title.

The Palm Beach Gardens resident, who considers the Miami Open home turf, was a champion here in 1998, ’99 and 2001.

But it has been seven long years since she played in her last Miami Open final.

Williams’ win over the 95th-ranked Tig was another step in the hopeful direction toward a first title for the 2017 season. If she journeys to the semifinals at Key Biscayne, she will return to a top-10 ranking.

Unfamiliar with Tig’s game, it took Williams a few minutes to figure out her opponent. Williams dropped serve in the third game of the first set, but by 3-all capably won the next nine games to secure the match in 70-minutes.

“I felt like my level was continuing to rise, which is exactly what I want,” Williams said. “It was just one break of serve in the beginning.

“I never played her, so you got to get used to the patterns or rhythm and things like that.”

Williams is playing at the top of her game this season — at the Australian Open she journeyed to her 15th career Grand Slam final and first since 2009 Wimbledon.

If only her younger sister, Serena, didn’t get in the way she could have collected an eighth Grand Slam trophy. But instead Serena picked up an Open Era-record 23rd major title.

Nevertheless, Venus displays no hard feelings about the Australian Open loss, even identifying her sibling as a source of influence.

“I’ve been really blessed to have this sister called Serena Williams,” she said. “She’s so cool. She’s super inspiring, so I don’t really need to look much further.

“Inspiration comes from within as well.”

One thing is for sure, Serena won’t be in the way of Venus possibly winning at Key Biscayne as she is sidelined with a knee injury.

Next up for Venus is seventh seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 31-year-old, two-time Grand Slam champion and 2006 Miami Open champion.

“We’ve had a lot of great matches,” Williams said of Kuznetsova. “I played her in the very beginning of her career and now we both have had great careers that are continuing to be amazing.”

Unlike Williams, it took fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal, also an Australian Open finalist this year, longer to pull his game together on Sunday in what was his 1,000 career match played.

Nadal didn’t win a game in the opening set against 26th-ranked Philip Kohlschreiber of Germany before coming back to win 0-6, 6-2, 6-3 and advance to the fourth round.

“One thousand matches is a lot of matches, obviously, and good news, because that says that I am having a long career,” Nadal said. “Yes, during the match was good feelings to have a comeback like I had [Sunday].”

A four-time finalist in Miami, Nadal last lost a set at love in a 2015 Australian Open quarterfinal defeat by Tomas Berdych.

By the third set Sunday, however, it was vintage Nadal as he won 20 of 21 service points played to close out Kohlschreiber.

Second-seeded Kei Nishikori, a Miami Open finalist last year, overcame a feisty 25th-ranked Fernando Verdasco of Spain 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (5-7), 6-1 to move into the fourth round.

Nishikori led 4-1 in the first set and 3-1 in the second set but wasn’t able to close out the match in straight sets.

Third-seeded Milos Raonic’s physical frailty continues to disrupt his year as he handed American qualifier Jared Donaldson a walkover on Sunday because of a right hamstring issue.

The Canadian was playing in his first tournament since withdrawing from the Delray Beach final last month with a similar injury.

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