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MailTribune.com
  • Venus finds old form in romp; Nadal coasts

  • NEW YORK — For years and years, a first-round victory by Venus Williams at a major tournament would hardly merit a mention.
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  • NEW YORK — For years and years, a first-round victory by Venus Williams at a major tournament would hardly merit a mention.
    She is, after all, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion. She's been the runner-up another seven times.
    She was ranked No. 1, owns Olympic gold medals, and is second to her younger sister Serena among active women in several key categories, including Grand Slam match wins, with 215.
    And yet nowadays, at age 33, two years removed from being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that saps energy, hampered much of this season by a bad lower back, and her ranking down to 60th, Williams entered Day 1 at the 2013 U.S. Open having won a total of three matches over the past five Grand Slam tournaments. Plus, she was facing 12th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, who was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last month and beat Williams on a hard court this month.
    Looking very much like the player she used to be, Williams smacked serves at up to 120 mph, returned superbly, covered the court well enough to hit a handful of swinging volley winners, and beat Flipkens 6-1, 6-2 Monday to reach the second round at Flushing Meadows.
    Flipkens, for one, was not surprised in the least to see Williams play that way. To Flipkens, this was not an upset — no matter what the rankings indicate.
    "If Venus is there — if she's fit, if she's focused — she's a top-10 player," Flipkens said. "Everybody who knows a little bit of the game of tennis can see that. Today, she was like a top-10 player."
    The place was full for the night session, when Serena Williams began her title defense with a 6-0, 6-1 victory, a performance so thoroughly impressive that her opponent, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, was prompted in a brief moment of levity to seek comfort by hugging a ball boy.
    "I don't need a hug in that moment, I need a game," joked Schiavone, who was trailing 6-0, 2-0 at the time.
    Eventually, play was called off for the day, postponing 17-time major champion Roger Federer's match against 62nd-ranked Grega Zemlja of Slovenia until today.
    Earlier on Ashe, 12-time major champion Rafael Nadal delivered a straightforward, straight-set victory over 21-year-old American Ryan Harrison, part of a series of smooth performances by top players. Flipkens was one of two seeded women to lose, along with No. 29 Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia.
    Sloane Stephens, a 20-year-old American seeded 15th, very nearly was on the list of losers, dropping the opening set, then trailing 4-2 in the third and 3-1 in the closing tiebreaker, before coming back to edge 110th-ranked Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
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