Veteran campaigner Venus Williams says is not at the Australian Open for “kicks and giggles” after grinding past Ukrainian youngster Kateryna Kozlova in two grueling sets Monday.
The American seven-time Grand Slam winner, who turns 37 this year, showed she is still up for a fight after coming through a near two-hour first round marathon 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 in stifling conditions.
The world number 17, who played her first Australian Open in 1998 and turned professional in 1994, the year her opponent was born, said the desire to win was still burning.
“Just like every player here, I have put in a ton of work. I’m not coming all the way to Australia for kicks and giggles. I’m here as a competitor,” she said.
“I mean, you saw me out there today, the intensity level and what it takes to win in even a first-round match against a player you may not even know.
“It’s hard work. It’s not easy. That love is there.”
Williams, competing in a 73rd Grand Slam, extending her Open-era record, pulled out of the lead-up Auckland Classic with an arm injury following her first-round match, setting back her Grand Slam preparations.
But she was still too good for the unseeded 22-year-old Kozlova.
The oldest woman in the draw and seeded 13 at Melbourne Park, she battled back in a seesawing first set to take it to a tiebreaker on Rod Laver Arena.
She narrowly got the upper hand to win it with an ace after a tough 67 minutes, pumping her fist in relief before wrapping herself in an ice towel at the changeover.
The second set was equally tight before Williams got a break to make it 6-5 then wrapped up the match, to the delight of the centre court crowd.
“I really have to give her a lot of credit for playing a match that was not a lot of errors and just relentless,” said Williams.
“I guess when I walk out there I have to expect that from my opponents… not an easy first round, but a great first round to get through, for sure.”
She next faces either Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele or Japan’s Kurumi Nara.
Venus Williams (born June 17, 1980) is an American professional tennis player who is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of women’s tennis and who, along with younger sister Serena Williams, is credited with ushering in a new era of power and athleticism on the women’s professional tennis tour.
Ranked World No. 6 in singles as of July 25, 2016, Williams has been ranked World No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association on three occasions, for a total of 11 weeks. She first became the World No. 1 on February 25, 2002, the first black American woman to do so in the Open Era.
Her seven Grand Slam singles titles ties her twelfth on the all-time list, more than any other active female player except sister Serena. She has also won fourteen Grand Slam doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles. Her five Wimbledon singles titles ties her with two other women for eighth place on the all-time list. Williams is one of four women to have won five or more Wimbledon singles titles in the Open Era. From the 2000 Wimbledon Championships to the 2001 US Open, Williams won four of the six Grand Slam singles tournaments held. She is one of only six women in the Open Era to win 200 or more main draw Grand Slam singles matches.
Williams has won four Olympic gold medals, one in singles and three in women’s doubles, along with a silver medal in mixed doubles. She and Serena have won more Olympic gold medals than any other tennis player, male or female. Venus also holds the record for the most Olympic medals won by a male or female player shared with Kathleen McKane Godfree and the only player to have won a medal at four separate Olympic Games. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Williams became only the second player to win Olympic gold medals in both singles and doubles at the same Olympic Games, after Helen Wills Moody in 1924.
With 49 singles titles, Williams is behind only Serena among active players on the WTA Tour. Her 35-match winning streak from the 2000 Wimbledon Championships to the 2000 Generali Ladies Linz tournament final is the longest since January 1, 2000.
Williams has played against her sister in 27 professional matches since 1998, and won 11. They have played against each other in eight Grand Slam singles finals, with Serena winning six times. Beginning with the 2002 French Open, they opposed each other in four consecutive Grand Slam singles finals, the first time sisters had so met in the Open Era. On the other side, the pair have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles playing alongside each other and are undefeated in Grand Slam finals.