By Romi Cvitkovic
Venus Williams looked be the player of old many Americans had grown to love in her defeat of fellow countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday.
It was one year ago this tournament that Venus Williams revealed to the world her battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune diseases she has learned to tame. After taking six months off the WTA Tour to adjust her lifestyle, she returned in March to the Sony Ericsson Open. Since then, she has played a lighter schedule that paid off in her wining the women’s doubles gold again at the London Olympics.
“That feeling was amazing,” Williams beamed during her on-court interview. “That was my whole dream, of coming back from being ill, to play in the olympics and to … bring home gold.”
The victories have continued for the unseeded Williams, as she hit 22 winners and won 83% of first serves. After the initial hiccup of dropping her first service game, Williams took rein of the match, moving well, crushing forehands and forcing her opponent to the corners.
With all the health struggles she has had, she admits to physically and mentally “feeling great” and happy about being in the second round.
But what would it mean to get through to the second week and put herself in contention for third US Open?
“That’s what I’m here for!” she joked. “All the hours on the court, all these years. To bring home the Slam and have an American in the winning circle again would be great, so I’m going to try.”
As good as she looked today and try as she might to win it all, there are still doubts about how her body will hold up when the matches start going three sets. Her time playing for the Kastles in the Washington, D.C. humidity this summer revealed how quickly her energy level can diminish and tighten her legs up.
Up next for Williams will be No. 6 Angelique Kerber, the German who was a surprise semifinalist here last year. Kerber is 19-for-21 in three-set matches for the year, so Williams will have to summon everything in her to win it in straight sets.