Venus Williams overcame a bad knee and seven foot faults to beat 47th-ranked Vera Dushevina of Russia 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3 and avoid a first-round exit at the U.S. Open.
The No. 3-seeded Williams had her left knee bandaged by a trainer after the third game. The American also had plenty of trouble serving, piling up 10 double-faults along with her foot-faults.
“I had a challenge on my hands today. But I wanted to win,” said Williams, who made 54 unforced errors. “Each good shot, and each not-so-good shot, I put behind me and looked forward to the next one.”
Afterward, Williams wouldn’t discuss her knee problem in any detail.
“You could see I had some issues,” she said. “I don’t really talk about my injuries, historically, and I’m not going to start now.”
Asked what it’s going to take for her knee to be better for the second round, Williams said: “A lot of prayer. It’s going to be a lot of prayer. Everything I can throw at it. But, you know, I’m tough.”
Dushevina broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set and was three points from winning at 5-4. But Williams, who has never lost in the U.S. Open’s first round, won the next seven games.
“Next few points,” Dushevina said, “she played great.”
Up 4-0 in the third set, Williams dropped three games in a row before righting herself once again.
Williams owns seven Grand Slam titles, while Dushevina has only once been as far as the fourth round at a major tournament.
Williams’ match served as the most intriguing encounter of a Day 1 that included victories for defending champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, Venus’ younger sister, and for 2003 champion Andy Roddick of the United States.
Roddick easily advanced with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over 84th-ranked Bjorn Phau of Germany. Roddick pounded serves at up to 145 mph (233 kph), put 81 per cent of his first serves in and collected 13 aces.
“The later, the better,” Roddick said on court afterward. “These are the hardcore fans.”
Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters, who recently came out of retirement, won her first match at the U.S. Open since claiming her lone Grand Slam title at New York in 2005.
Clijsters received a warm welcome from the Flushing Meadows crowd as she marked her return with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over 79th-ranked Viktoriya Kutuzova of Ukraine.
It was the 26-year-old Belgian’s first Grand Slam match since January 2007.
In the intervening years, Clijsters retired, got married and, in May 2008, gave birth to a daughter. She came to the U.S. Open unranked and needed a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association.
“Little more nervous than usual. It’s a very special court to me, but I really enjoyed it,” Clijsters said. “I felt really good out there.”
Venus Williams won here in 2000 and 2001, and while she hasn’t been back to the final since losing to her sister in 2002, her earliest departure from New York came in the fourth round in 2004.
She looked headed for the exit at several moments Monday, particularly after Dushevina took the last four points of the first set after trailing 5-3 in the tiebreaker. Williams led by that score when she pounded an apparent service winner, one that would have given her a 6-3 lead and three set points.
But a line judge called Williams for a foot fault, her fourth. She seemed to lose her focus, turning to the official to ask, “Which foot?” When Williams went back to the baseline for the second serve, she netted it for a double-fault.
“It threw me off,” Williams said. “After that, I just got a little tentative.”
The second set featured more of the same, as Williams fell behind 3-1, then trailed 5-4. But she broke Dushevina there with a backhand winner, and began to hit her spots more.
Williams played most of her matches en route to the final at Wimbledon this year with a bulky tape job on her left knee. But she began Monday’s match without any such help. Three games in, she called for the trainer.
“I had some issues, and I needed some support,” she said, earning a roar from the fans. “I’m not one to complain. Everyone has injuries they’re dealing with. I did my best tonight, despite everything I was going through.”
Other men’s winners included American John Isner, who knocked off No. 28-seeded Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-1, 7-6 (14), 7-6 (5); No. 21 James Blake of the United States; former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and French Open runner-up Robin Soderling of Sweden.
Serena Williams beat an American teenager in straight sets, eliminating Alexa Glatch 6-4, 6-1.
Two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo of France won easily, as did No. 7 Vera Zvonarev of Russia and No. 8 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Italian No. 10 Flavia Pennetta, No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and No. 14 Marion Bartoli, whose next opponent is Clijsters.
France’s Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up, was also the first woman Clijsters played in her comeback. Clijsters beat her.
“I just have to go on court and think I’m still the player with the better ranking, so I’m supposed to win,” Bartoli said Monday. “This time I know what to do. I have a plan, so it’s going to be different.”