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Evergreen Venus scrambles into second round

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Venus Williams of the US celebrates defeating Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine in their 2016 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 30, 2016 © AFP / Jewel Samad

New York, United States, Aug 30 – Venus Williams battled into the second round of the US Open on Tuesday, grabbing a slice of Grand Slam history along the way with her 72nd main draw appearance in a major.

On the same day that younger sister Serena was due to launch her bid for a record seventh US Open title — and a record-setting 23rd Grand Slam crown — the elder Williams broke the Open Era mark she had shared with Amy Frazier for most Grand Slams contested.

The 36-year-old Venus, enjoying something of a resurgence in a 2016 season that includes a WTA title in Taiwan, survived 63 unforced errors in a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 victory over 22-year-old Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova, who has risen more than 80 spots in the world rankings since February to her current number 93.

“The errors told the story today,” said Williams, whose aggressive game also produced 46 winners. “I’m going to try to change that for the second round.”

The match closed out the afternoon action on the Arthur Ashe stadium court, setting the stage for a blockbuster night that included Serena’s first-round clash with Russian veteran Ekaterina Makarova and second-seeded Andy Murray taking on Czech Lukas Rosol.

Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine hits a return against Venus Williams of the US during their 2016 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 30, 2016 © AFP / Jewel Samad

Serena’s Wimbledon triumph in July saw her equal Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 major titles.

She has won four of five encounters with Makarova, including two US Open matches against the Russian left-hander.

Murray is bidding to become the fourth man in the Open Era to reach all four major finals in a calendar year.

Since capturing his second Wimbledon title Murray has gone on to defend his Olympic gold in Rio.

Murray has downplayed any grudge match aspect to his clash with Rosol, who provoked an angry outburst from the Briton when they met in the quarter-finals at Munich last year.

In other early matches, third-seeded Swiss Stan Wawrinka, a two-time semi-finalist, reached the second round with a 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-4 win over Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.

Kei Nishikori of Japan hits a return to Benjamin Becker of Germany during their 2016 US Open Men’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 30, 2016 © AFP / Kena Betancur

“I’m really happy,” Wawrinka said after evening his career record against Verdasco at three wins apiece.

“Fernando is a tough player to play. He can be really aggressive. He doesn’t give you so much rhythm, so it’s not easy.”

Kei Nishikori, who became Asia’s first men’s Grand Slam finalist in New York in 2014, when he fell to Marin Cilic in the final, also advanced, downing German Benjamin Becker 6-1, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

“It was a great feeling of course,” said Nishikori, whose breakthrough run in 2014 was followed by an abrupt first-round exit last year.

“I have great memories here and I always love coming back to New York.”

– Halep advances –

Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, advanced with a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) victory over fellow Argentine Diego Schwartzman.

The 27-year-old del Potro, almost pushed into retirement by three wrist surgeries, is back at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2013, earning a wild card invitation with a stirring run to an Olympic silver medal.

Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro reacts after winning his men’s first round singles tennis match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic at the Olympic Tennis Centre of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 7, 2016 © AFP/File / Roberto Schmidt

Women’s fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, trying to make it to the quarter-finals in New York for the first time, takes on American qualifier Jessica Pegula.

Fifth-seeded Romanian Simona Halep survived late jitters to make it safely into the second round with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

Halep needed less than an hour, but admitted she was “too nervous to finish the match” after failing to take advantage of her first chance to close it out when leading 6-0, 5-0.

The late wobble, in front of a crowd that included compatriot Nadia Comeneci — the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 — had Halep rating her own performance “less than nine”.

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