After a summer of the best tennis Venus Williams has played in ages, fans expected her to come out fighting on Monday at the 2014 U.S. Open. Instead, for a while, it looked like the veteran would make an early exit, possibly falling at the hands of the only player older than her in this year’s tournament.
Williams, 34, faced 43-year-old journeywoman Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second match of the day in a half-filled Arthur Ashe Stadium. In the first set, Williams looked lethargic at best. Even as she battled back to take the match, she never seemed to play with much energy.
The most exciting moments of the match came midway through the second set after a bumblebee started buzzing around Date-Krumm’s face as she tried to serve. With two ball girls and a ball boy enlisted to help, play stopped for a full minute as the group tried swatting the bee with the racquet and towels. The bee finally flew away, only to land on Williams a few minutes later. As Date-Krumm danced away from it, the small crowd roared, reaching its highest volume of the day.
"She has so much class she didn’t swat it," Williams said of Date-Krumm. "So once it was my turn, then I think I would’ve been remiss to swat it myself. …I guess he’s on his way now."
The dance away from the bee was the most agile the players looked all day. Date-Krumm took the first set against Williams without much of a fight. Trailing 4-1, Williams broke serve in the sixth game to get within two, but bowed out easily in the next two games. Nearly every one of her first serves sank into the net. Date-Krumm took the first set 6-2.
"Not the ideal start, but she’s a tricky player," Williams said. "I think I just wasn’t able to convert enough holds. She just goes for runs, and I give her a lot of credit for winning the first set and really making it extremely challenging."
Williams came out more determined in the second set, playing the strong tennis she’s showcased all summer. She took the first three games in less than 15 minutes, with her serves finally landing on the mark. She won the set 6-3, then repeated the effort in the third set to secure her place in the second round.
Williams will have to pick up the pace to make it past the second round – a feat she has yet to accomplish in this year’s Grand Slams.
Date-Krumm made her U.S. Open debut in 1989, eight years before Williams played her first of 15 U.S. Opens. Date-Krumm played in 28 Grand Slams before retiring in 1996, then came back in 2009. She has never won a Grand Slam event, but has played in the semifinals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open and the quarterfinals here in New York.
Asked if she feels old out there, Williams smiled. "Not yet," she said. "According to Kimiko, I have another decade."