On Wednesday afternoon Venus Williams will take on Kurumi Nara of Japan in the second round of the women’s singles, a match secured via an opening day victory in three bruising sets against Spain’s hard-hitting Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor. It will be the elder Williams 88th singles outing at Wimbledon, taking her above Virgina Wade and will mean only three women and one man have played more matches here in the open era.
Monday saw her equal Wade and win her 75th match. Martin Navratilova, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King, as well as Jimmy Connors, are in three figures and all but of reach for Williams, who celebrated her 34th birthday last week. Her career is on the wane, a decline quickened by her battle with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can leave her exhausted and restricts her training, but she plays on because it remains a sport she says she is in love with – and the evidence for that is there in her continued enthusiasm for playing doubles alongside side Serena.
It was in 1997, when Monday’s opponent was five, that a 17-year-old Williams made her Wimbledon debut. Five titles followed but her recent record has been one of diminishing returns. Since losing to Serena in the 2009 final – a year after her last victory (also against her sister) – she has been knocked out earlier and earlier culminating two years ago in her first first-round exit since that teenage debut.
She missed last year with a back injury and, unlike her younger sister, arrived here accompanied by no great expectation and a seeding of 30. She has had an indifferent year, winning in Dubai but illness has restricted her recent outings. She will feel much better after Monday, which turned into a good work out, and an unexpectedly tough one, to open her 17th Wimbledon.
At 22 Torro-Flor, a Spanish clay courter, is playing only her second Wimbledon. She hits the ball hard and traded blows with Williams through a tight first set that went Williams’ way when Torro-Flor double faulted on the only break point. The Spaniard converted one of her two break points in the second to take it to a deciding set where Williams’ power finally told. She broke in the fifth game and then to love in the seventh and swept through the final set in 29 no-nonsense minutes.
"It was great," said Williams. "My opponent played amazing. It was definitely a challenge today. She was playing inspired tennis. It feels good to win. It feels good to play well against an opponent who is playing well."