The welcome and support for Venus Williams in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday afternoon were not the same as they were for her sister, Serena, a night earlier. Nor was the result.
Venus, who turned 42 in June, has not made any pronouncements about her future in tennis, unlike her younger sibling, and while she has been successful and influential, too — a seven-time Grand Slam champion; a Black woman in a predominantly white sport — the fanfare and attention are not the same.
Playing in front of thousands of empty blue seats in an arena quite silent at the start, although growing louder later, Venus bowed out in the first round of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive appearance, losing 6-1, 7-6 (5) to Alison Van Uytvanck.
“She means so much to female tennis. Tennis, in general,” Van Uytvanck said. “She’s a legend.”
This was the 23rd trip to Flushing Meadows for Venus, who made it to the final in 1997 as a teen then won the trophy in 2000 and 2001, and her record 91st time participating in a major tournament.
Venus had never lost in the opening round at the U.S. Open until 2020, then was absent last year.
Asked what keeps her motivated these days, she answered: “Three letters: W-I-N. That’s it. Very simple.”
Bothered by hand blisters
At night, Emma Raducanu became only the third defending U.S. Open champion to lose in the first round, eliminated by Alizé Cornet 6-3, 6-3. Raducanu, who was 18 and ranked 150th when she won the title as a qualifier a year ago, was bothered by hand blisters — she took a medical timeout for treatment after the first set — and was outplayed by Cornet, a 32-year-old from France who also upset No. 1 Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon.
“Obviously really disappointing. Really sad to leave here. It’s probably my favourite tournament. But also, I mean, in a way, (I'm) happy, because it’s a clean slate,” Raducanu said. “I’m going to drop down the rankings. (Will) climb my way back up.”
Also playing under the lights was 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal, who returned to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2019 and beat 21-year-old Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. Nadal did not show any serious lingering issues with the torn abdominal muscle that forced him out of Wimbledon in July.
Nadal’s victory was followed in Ashe by a match between four-time Grand Slam title winner Naomi Osaka and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.
Venus was off the tour in singles entirely from August 2021 until less than a month ago and is now 0-4 since her return. Her ranking — which 20 years ago was No. 1 — is 1,504th this week.
“It was definitely the longest time I have been away from tennis and been without a racket in my hand. So it was a completely new experience for me, getting a racket back in my hand and trying to acclimate as quick as possible to be ready for the U.S. Open, which was not easy,” she said. “Definitely playing lots of great points, but in the end, it’s just rust. There is nothing you can do about that except for, you know, not be rusty at some point.”
Serena and Venus will join forces in doubles on Thursday, teaming up for the first time anywhere since 2018 this week.