At 37, Venus Williams is the oldest woman playing at the U.S. Open. But age wasn’t a factor in her 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 first-round victory over 19-year-old Victoria Kuzmova of Slovakia Monday at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens.
Now in her 22nd year as a professional, Williams is currently carrying the mantle for both herself and younger sister Serena, the expectant mother who is taking a sabbatical from competitive tennis as a result of her pregnancy.
Seeded ninth entering this year’s Open, Williams maintained that her experience provides her clarity in understanding the necessities of navigating early round matches. “I definitely wasn’t expecting or planning on dropping sets today,” she said after a brief setback against Kuzmova. “But things happen. That’s why I play the match, because you have to win the match. So it’s just all about regrouping. It’s the first round. You figure it out, you know, what’s going on.”
Williams, a finalist in the women’s singles at Wimbledon this past July, where she was defeated by 23-year-old Garbine Muguruza of Spain, 7-5, 6-0, is seeking her third U.S. Open title and first since 2001. The seven-time Grand Slam singles winner (five at Wimbledon) faced Oceane Dodin of France in the second round last night.
Sloan Stephens, who missed the first six-months of this year’s tennis circuit because of foot surgery, defeated Roberta Vinci of Italy 7-5, 6-1 in her opening match of the tournament. The 24-year-old Stephens, who was once viewed as the heir apparent to Venus and Serena Williams as the next major African-American women’s player, has had a strong return this summer after her recovery.
“I think when you play week in and week out, a couple of years in a row, there’s a lot of ups and downs,” she said after the victory over Dodin. “I think it can wear you out a bit. I obviously wasn’t happy to get injured. That’s not anything that I ever wanted. But it was a good lesson for me. It was a good time to be able to take a break, get my health in order, then just kind of re-evaluate my whole entire situation, come back a better player and better person.”
Maria Sharapova also looked to come back better both personally and professionally after serving a 15-month suspension by the International Tennis Federation for an antidoping rule violation.
The 30-year-old Russian made a tearful return at the U.S. Open by defeating the No. 2 seed, Romania’s Simona Halep, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, in a gripping first-night match.
After the clinching point, Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open women’s champion, fell to her knees and wept.