By Laura Amato
Venus Williams didn’t think about the history she made when she stepped onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday. She was more concerned with what would happen when she stepped off it.
The two-time US Open champ made her record-breaking 72nd Grand Slam appearance in the first-round tilt, taking on Kateryna Kozlova in a match that was anything but easy.
Williams was far from perfect, but the 36-year-old avoided the upset, earning a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 victory. She walked off the court with a smile on her face.
“The first round is never easy. You’re trying to find a rhythm, get used to the court, you know, play an opponent I never played before,” Williams said. “But it was great to be challenged and to be pushed because I had to get in those situations that you know you’re going to face in the tournament early on. So that felt good to come through.”
Williams was confident for good reason—the sixth-seeded star has never lost in the first round of the US Open. She breezed through the first set in 38 minutes, effectively overpowering Kozlova.
Then, the second set happened.
Kozlova has never notched a top-10 victory, but the 22-year-old Ukrainian battled back, taking advantage of a handful of error from Williams, forcing a decisive third set. Williams had originally jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second.
“I didn’t know much about [Kozlova’s] game at all, literally zero. And it’s hard,” Williams said. “The first round is hard. I haven’t played a single match in, like, three weeks. Just getting out there and trying to play perfectly. I definitely had a lot more errors than I wanted. If I could cut those in half, it’s definitely a different story.”
Williams jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the third set and while Kozlova battled back, taking advantage of errors to set up a break point, the veteran found a second level when it mattered most.
“After the second set, I was so motivated, honestly I was ready to play an even more aggressive game,” Williams said. “I think in the beginning of the second, I was just too eager so I had to kind of pull back and try to play smart but still aggressive because the game she plays is just pure defense.”
It’s been five years since Williams announced she suffered from Sjogren’s syndrome and after time away from the court, the long-time star has seemingly found her place in the sport.
Fresh off her silver medal victory in mixed doubles at the Rio Games, Williams is simply happy to be on the court again. She doesn’t take anything for granted anymore, appreciates every serve, relishes every opportunity to play and, even now, 72 Grand Slam appearances later, that hasn’t changed at all.
Williams isn’t interested in making history. All she cares about is winning and, right now, she’s still doing that.
“I’m grateful and I’m blessed. All I’m hoping for is just health and that I can keep that record going,” she said. “I don’t know when I’m going to stop playing. I don’t have plans now. I’m playing too well to be thinking about stopping. I appear to be getting better each and every month.”