Williams returned to tennis on the big stage yesterday, winning her first match at the US Open after a two-month break she needed to fight off a viral illness.
“A lot of the battle is just trying to be fit and stay healthy,” Williams said after her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Vesna Dolonts. “Sometimes I’ve been losing that battle a lot. But I do feel like I can play six matches. I need to win them. No one is more in one-match-at-a-time mode than me now at this tournament.”
Williams, a two-time champion at Flushing Meadows, came into the tournament unseeded for the first time since 1997, when she was 17 and made a run all the way to the final. Of course, people overlook her at their peril. When healthy and motivated, she and her sister, Serena, are the biggest X-factors in any tournament they enter.
Serena opened play last night against Bojana Jovaovski in much the same situation as her sister – seeded a lowly 28th after missing a big chunk of the year with an injury. But unlike Venus, who had not played a competitive match since Wimbledon, Serena has had a good lead-up to the US Open, winning two tournaments earlier this month.
“I think how she’s played has been amazing,” Venus Williams said. “It was definitely motivating to see her do so well this summer. But I know she can play. She knows she can play tennis. I know I can play tennis, so of course it’s great to see those results. But I know I have it in me, also.”
After Venus played in the last match of the first day, 16-time major winner Roger Federer beat 54th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to collect his 224th victory in Grand Slam play, tying Andre Agassi for second-most in the Open era. Jimmy Connors holds the record at 233.
The only men’s seed to lose on Day 1 was No. 15 Viktor Troicki of Serbia, a 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 loser against Alejandro Falla of Colombia.
Meanwhile, if Novak Djokovic’s shoulder was still bothering him, it didn’t show yesterday. Then again, he was barely around long enough to tell. He spent 44 minutes on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court, taking a 6-0, 5-1 lead in his first-round match against Ireland’s Conor Niland, before Niland retired because of food poisoning.
It wasn’t much of a test for the top-seeded Djokovic, who pulled out with an ailing shoulder while trailing in the second set of the Cincinnati Masters final on August 21.
Winning almost as easily yesterday was the women’s No. 1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain, 6-3, 6-1.
Elsewhere on the second day at the US Open, No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka defeated Johanna Larsson of Sweden 6-1, 6-3.
No. 7 Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, overcame four double-faults in her last service game before pulling out a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win over Galina Voskoboeva.
In earlier men’s action, Ernests Gulbis of Latvia upset 16th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, who made a surprise trip to the semi-finals last year before falling to Nadal.
Other winners included No. 5 David Ferrer, No. 11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 17 Jurgen Melzer and American wild-card entry Donald Young. No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer, No. 31 Kaia Kanepi and No. 11 Jelena Jankovic won on the women’s side.