For a slice of an afternoon, the world of Venus Williams looked an awful lot the way it used to: she was dominating a match at the US Open, calmly blasting shots past a player possessing nowhere as much talent, trotting off happily with the New York sun glancing off her pink-tinted hair and sparkling smile.
Yes, for a slice of Monday afternoon, the old world of Venus Williams had returned to Arthur Ashe Stadium as she powered past Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-2 in a first-round match.
The match did not come quite as easily as the score suggested. The second set had several marathon games as Flipkens fought hard. But the result was emphatic. Williams, 33, had dispatched the tournament’s 12th seed.
The world of Venus Williams has not been this way since 2011, when she announced she was being slowed by a chronic autoimmune disease.
On Monday, she seemed best able to focus in the most difficult moments of the match, something that has not happened much since she revealed that Sjögren’s syndrome was behind her persistent fatigue and languishing game. Now, she says, she plays matches trying not to think about the larger issues.
“I try to think about how I’m going to execute each point on the court,” she said. “There can be times you play amazing in practice or in the round before and not play well the next round. I try more than anything to get the best out of myself.”
Williams’s summer has nearly been drowned out by the whispers of a seemingly inevitable retirement. After all, she had to sit out Wimbledon, had lost in the first round of French Open and her ranking slipped to 60.
After Williams pounded through the first set, she found herself down two break points in the first game of the second set. She charged the net to save the two break points, then needed to save several more as the game turned into a fight for momentum.
Williams won by coming up with big shots in the biggest moments. Just like old times.
Defending champion and younger sister Serena Williams, meanwhile, needed just an hour to see off Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone 6-0, 6-1.
Rafael Nadal made an ominous return to the US Open on Monday as he demolished American wildcard Ryan Harrison 6-4 6-2 6-2.
Roared on by the energetic New York crowds, Nadal, who missed last year’s Open because of a chronic knee problem, showed his intentions to make up for lost time, turned on a masterclass in power hitting.
“For me, the chance to be back here playing is great,” said Nadal. “The first match after two years in the Arthur Ashe is a great feeling.”
New York Times