For the majority of what would become the longest US Open women's match of the tournament so far, Venus Williams looked nothing like a 33-year-old plagued with an autoimmune disease and an achy back.
But her opponent, 56th-ranked Jie Zheng of China, wore Williams down with powerful returns and impressive endurance, eventually winning a third-set tiebreaker to take the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5).
If the extended match wasn't evidence enough, Williams still made mention of her physical status.
"If I didn't think I had anything left in the tank, I wouldn't be here," she said. "I still think I do and that's why I'm still here."
Still, for the two-time Open champion ('00, '01), Williams showed flashes of her former self throughout the more-than three-hour match, which included a 90-minute third set. In fact, even after dropping match point, she graciously congratulated Zheng as the crowd stood, applauding both women's efforts at Louis Armstrong stadium.
Today's match between Venus and Jie Zheng finished in 3:02 -- tied for 5th longest women's match in @usopen recorded history (since 1970).— Tim Curry (@USTA_TimCurry) August 29, 2013
The duel had already been delayed a few hours (Serena's second-round match was pushed to tomorrow), and the two continued rallying deep into the third set even when all the other courts had stopped play because of even more rain.
Zheng's efficiency (74 percent of her first serves were in vs. Williams's 52 percent) finally won out against Williams's power, even when the latter battered the ball at up to 117 MPH. Williams didn't help herself with several miscues throughout the tiebreaker, finishing with 44 unforced errors in all.
Up 5-3 in the third set, Zheng was just two points away from sealing the match and equaling her best Open finish ever, but Williams, spurred on by the home crowd, won the next four points to momentarily stave off elimination.
Ultimately though, Zheng, who was ousted from the first round at Wimbedon this year, deserved the tremendous victory and will move on to face No. 18 seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round.