STANFORD -- Venus Williams said earlier this week that she has no interest in retirement. Thursday night at the Bank of the West Classic, she showed why.

Flashing the vintage form that made her a seven-time Grand Slam champion and winner of 45 titles overall, the 34-year-old Williams out-slugged former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-6 (1) in a sizzler of a second-round match at the Taube Family Tennis Center.

Azarenka, the No. 4 seed who was celebrating her 25th birthday, has had a nightmare 2014 season because of nerve damage in her left foot that has troubled her since February. She missed the French Open entirely, had a three-month layoff, and had played only four matches since the Australian Open, losing three of them to players she would normally crush.

But Williams hardly preyed on a wounded Azarenka on this night. Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, looked fully recovered from her injury, and if she wasn't back to Grade A form, she was close.

Williams, however, was even better. Ranked as low as No. 132 in the world rankings two years ago, she has made a steady climb back to some semblance of relevance in 2014. She won a tournament in Dubai early in the year -- her first Women's Tennis Association victory in two years -- and although she lost in the third round at Wimbledon, she gave eventual champion Petra Kvitova her toughest match before losing 5-7, 7-6 (2), 7-5.

But this might have been Williams' most gratifying victory of the year.


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"Obviously, it's always great to get a win against a player like Victoria because she's a champion," said Williams. "So it feels good. But she also hasn't been playing as much, so I think she's still looking for her range. But I think both of us played at a high level, and it just got better as the match went on."

Azarenka agreed and graciously gave all the credit to Williams, a player she has never beaten in four meetings.

"It was a pretty good match, I think the level was pretty high," Azarenka said. "We both came out with some great points and great fighting. I think Venus came out with a little bit better execution at the important moments."

Indeed, in a match featuring some vicious hitting by both players, Williams was steadier when it counted most. On serve with a 5-4 lead in the first set,

Williams took advantage of back-to-back double faults in the 10th game by Azarenka to take a 40-15 lead, and even though Azarenka battled back to deuce, Williams impressively won the next two points to take the set.

The second set was dead even through the first seven games, but Williams took a 5-3 lead when she won four straight points on Azarenka's serve. Azarenka broke right back, however, then fended off two match points while serving down 6-5 to force the tiebreaker. It looked as if she might turn the match her way, but the tiebreaker was all Williams. She won the first five points, hitting some fabulous shots for winners and also forcing Azarenka into some costly mistakes by stepping up her play.

"I think the tiebreaker brought out my best tennis," Williams said.

The win sets up a Williams sisters doubleheader for Friday's quarterfinals. Venus, ranked No. 25 in the world and unseeded in this event, will play eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany at 4 p.m. Sister Serena faces fifth seed Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in the feature match at 8. If they both win, they would face each other for only the second time since 2009 in the semifinals Saturday.

Earlier in the day, Ivanovic rolled to an easy 6-1, 6-1 victory over Stanford sophomore standout Carol Zhao of Canada. Ivanovic has just one victory against Serena Williams in six meetings, but that win came earlier this year in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

SCHEDULE, RESULTS
Thursday's key results
No. 3 Angelique Kerber d. Coco Vandeweghe 7-6 (4), 0-6, 6-2
Venus Williams d. No. 4
Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-6 (1)
Friday's key matches
No. 1 Serena Williams vs.
No. 5 Ana Ivanovic, 8 p.m.
Venus Williams vs.
No. 8 Andrea Petkovic, 4 p.m.
Friday's TV: 8 p.m., ESPN2