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U.S. Open: Venus Williams holds off Kateryna Kozlova in first round

Venus Williams returns to the Ukaine's Kateryna Kozlova

Venus Williams returns to the Ukaine's Kateryna Kozlova during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. Williams won, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Venus Williams is at it again. Been at it since 1997, her first U.S. Open where she made it all the to the final, losing to Martina Hingis.

Here she is, at 36 the oldest player in the woman’s draw, starting on a another Grand Slam journey. The two-time Open champion weathered the storm of Kateryna Kozlova Tuesday, pulling out 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 first-round win on Arthur Ashe Stadium, getting the job done in the last match of the day session so the place could be cleared for sister Serena’s match against Ekaterina Makarova that started the night session.

Kozlova was born in 1994, the year that Williams turned professional. Five players in the field — Cici Bellis, Kayla Day, Sofia Kenin, Ana Konjuh and Naomi Osaka — were born after Williams played in her first U.S. Open.

It’s not just the age factor that Williams faces, but the ongoing necessity to cope with her own body.

At the Open in 2011, she withdrew after announcing she had been diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can sap strength and stamina. She was absent from competitive tennis until spring of 2012, and her ranking fell to 137.

But through medical intervention and sheer determination, she has fought her way back to the No. 6 in the world. She’s won five tournaments since she was diagnosed.

Of the three she won in 2015, there was impressive victory over world No. 3 Garbine Muguruza in China. This year Williams won a tournament in Taiwan and made the semifinals at Wimbledon, where she lost to Angelique Kerber, her first Grand Slam semi since 2010. The last of her seven Grand Slam victories was at Wimbledon in 2008. She won back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2000 and 2001, two tennis generations ago. Still, she plunges on.

“As an athlete, you’re always aiming for perfection, you want more and more and more. It’s never enough,” she said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to, to peak every time I get on the court.”

With her appearance here, she is also the all-time leader in Grand Slams played with 72.

“I’m grateful and I’m blessed,” Williams said. “All I’m hoping for is just health that I can keep that record going. 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. So I’d like to make that record hard for someone to break.”


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