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Williams humbled by superb Rezai

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Originally published on: 16/05/10 17:16

Far from intimidated by her first WTA Premier final, diminutive French No.2 Aravane Rezai blazed to a 6-2 7-5 victory over Venus Williams to claim the biggest title of her career in Madrid.

In a whirl of gold, the 23-year-old oozed a level of confidence you’d expect from someone wearing such a flashy outfit – but not from a player featuring in the first WTA Premier final of her career.

From the word go, Rezai threw the kitchen sink at the new world No.2, storming into an early 3-1 lead and blasting her groundstrokes to all corners with intense ferocity.

Looking increasingly flustered as Rezai’s heavy-hitting continued at blistering pace, Williams had to call on her trademark serve to keep in touch with the plucky Frenchwoman, but was broken again in the seventh game as the first set slipped from her grasp in under half an hour.

Baking under the Madrid sun, the uncharacteristically zippy clay surface was doused in water at the end of the first set, a move that appeared to play into the hands of the American come the second.

Slowing the pace and taking her time between points in an attempt to find a foothold in the match, Williams finally found an answer to Rezai’s barrage of heavy hitting, breaking for the first time to move into a 2-0 lead.

But Rezai, formerly better known for the mistakes that tend to accompany her gung-ho hitting, showed how far she has come under coach Patrick Mouratoglou as she battled to stay in contention early in the second.

Seemingly at her gutsiest when under the cosh, Rezai immediately broke back, only to see Williams break again to claim a 3-1 lead.

It seemed that the seven-time Grand Slam champ would soon find an answer to Rezai’s heavy strokes, and when she produced some stirling defensive play to hold serve and move into a 4-1 lead, a deciding set seemed the only possible outcome.

But Rezai wasn’t done yet. Halting her momentary dip, the Frenchwoman saved two break points, before attacking Williams with a sizzling backhand drive that saw her break back to bring proceedings back on serve.

Rezai did threaten to undo her hard work moments later when she approached the net and inexplicably found the tape with the court at her mercy, missing the opportunity to move 30-0 ahead at 4-5. Instead, she stared down the barrel as Williams held two set points at 15-40, but somehow managed to retain her composure to level at 5-5.

Full-of confidence and buoyed by the break, a Rafa-style fist pump followed as Rezai racked up three break points on the Williams serve, converting on the third, before serving out a remarkable victory in an hour and 44 minutes.

The defeated Williams towered over her victor as they shook hands at the net, where Rezai’s glee at claiming her third career title – on top of triumphs in Strasbourg and Bali last year – contrasted with the American’s mammoth disappointment at missing the opportunity for a 44th career title.

She may be even-shorter than Justine Henin, but like the Belgian, Rezai sure packs a punch, and now that she’s discovered the consistency to match her heavy-hitting, perhaps there’ll be more shouts of “Allez Aravane” than we expected at Roland Garros this year…

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