Venus leads Americas to victory in Hong Kong team event

Venus Williams crushed Vera Zvonareva in straight sets to seal victory for the Americas over top seeds Russia in the Hong Kong World Team Challenge Saturday.
Williams dominated from the start of the match, winning 6-2, 6-2 to give her team an unassailable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five gold group final.
It followed a hard-fought 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win for Gisela Dulko over Anna Chakvetadze after the Americas and Russia were tied at 1-1 overnight.
Wimbledon champion Williams, at six in the world, is ranked just one place higher than her opponent but played on a different level, taking a vice-like grip on the match from the start.
The seven-time Grand Slam winner raced into a 3-0 lead in the first set with two breaks of serve and never allowed her opponent into the match as she pounded the Russian on both sides of the court.
Williams, who struck 10 winners and six aces, looks in great shape for this month’s Australian Open, which she has never won. Earlier in the tournament she pummelled world number one Jelena Jankovic by the same scoreline. Earlier, Dulko and Chakvetadze, ranked 18, struggled with their serving, with five straight breaks at the start of the match.
But the decider went with serve until the ninth game, when a deft volley by 49th-ranked Dulko at the net gave her the crucial break and she served out for victory.
“I’ve been here so many years and this is the perfect way for me to prepare for the Australian Open,” Williams said after her team’s win.
Referring to her victories over Jankovic and Zvonareva, Williams said: “(They are) very accomplished players and experienced and both of them played great last year so it’s definitely a great way to start the year with wins against such talented players.”
In the final match of the exhibition tournament, Williams and Coco Vandeweghe beat Chakvetadze and Alexandra Panova 6-4, 6-1 in doubles to seal a 4-1 victory for the Americas.
On Friday, Williams beat Chakvetadze 7-6 (71), 6-3 to give the Americas the lead but Russia hit back through Zvonareva, who beat Dulko 6-4, 0-6, 6-3.
Meanwhile, earlier Saturday Jankovic pulled out of the Hong Kong event with flu, throwing her Australian Open preparations into disarray.
The Serbian, who came into the tournament looking for vital match practice ahead of the year’s opening Grand Slam, said she had been struggling throughout the tournament.
“I have a flu and have been feeling weak and sick for the last couple of days,” she said.
The 23-year-old said she was flying to Melbourne later Saturday ahead of the start of the Australian Open on January 19. She has no other matches scheduled before the tournament starts.
Her withdrawal from the JB Group Classic World Team Challenge, featuring teams from Russia, Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific, leaves her short of match practice after playing only one singles and two doubles matches this year.
Asia-Pacific won the silver group final 3-0 against Europe, featuring the teams that lost their semi-final clashes earlier in the week.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2009