MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 16 – Veteran campaigner Venus Williams says is not at the Australian Open for “kicks and giggles” after grinding past Ukrainian youngster Kateryna Kozlova in two gruelling sets Monday.
The American seven-time Grand Slam winner, who turns 37 this year, showed she is still up for a fight after coming through a near two-hour first round marathon 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 in stifling conditions.
The world number 17, who played her first Australian Open in 1998 and turned professional in 1994, the year her opponent was born, said the desire to win was still burning.
“Just like every player here, I have put in a ton of work. I’m not coming all the way to Australia for kicks and giggles. I’m here as a competitor,” she said.
“I mean, you saw me out there today, the intensity level and what it takes to win in even a first-round match against a player you may not even know.
“It’s hard work. It’s not easy. That love is there.”
Williams, competing in a 73rd Grand Slam, extending her Open-era record, pulled out of the lead-up Auckland Classic with an arm injury following her first-round match, setting back her Grand Slam preparations.
But she was still too good for the unseeded 22-year-old Kozlova.
The oldest woman in the draw and seeded 13 at Melbourne Park, she battled back in a seesawing first set to take it to a tiebreaker on Rod Laver Arena.
She narrowly got the upper hand to win it with an ace after a tough 67 minutes, pumping her fist in relief before wrapping herself in an ice towel at the changeover.
The second set was equally tight before Williams got a break to make it 6-5 then wrapped up the match, to the delight of the centre court crowd.
“I really have to give her a lot of credit for playing a match that was not a lot of errors and just relentless,” said Williams.
“I guess when I walk out there I have to expect that from my opponents… not an easy first round, but a great first round to get through, for sure.”
She next faces either Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele or Japan’s Kurumi Nara.