NEW YORK — For years and years, a first-round victory by Venus Williams at a major tournament would hardly merit a mention.
She is, after all, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion. She’s been the runner-up another seven times.
She was ranked No. 1, owns Olympic gold medals, and is second to her younger sister Serena among active women in several key categories, including Grand Slam match wins, with 215.
And yet nowadays, at age 33, two years removed from being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that saps energy, hampered much of this season by a bad lower back, and her ranking down to 60th, Williams entered Day 1 at the 2013 U.S. Open having won a total of three matches over the past five Grand Slam tournaments.
Plus, she was facing 12th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, who was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last month and beat Williams on a hard court this month.In the night session, Venus’ sister, Serena, began her title defense with a 6-0, 6-1 victory, a performance so thoroughly impressive that her opponent, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, was prompted in a brief moment of levity to seek comfort by hugging a ball boy.
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, in his first Grand Slam match since an early first-round exit at Wimbledon— and first U.S. Open since 2011 — rolled past American Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Nadal, who missed last year’s tournament because of a left knee injury, improved to 16-0 on hard courts this year.
“For me, the chance to be back here playing — I have a chance to compete this year — is great,” the Spaniard said. “I am enjoying the week before practicing. Today the first match after two years in the Arthur Ashe, so is a great feeling.”
American Sloane Stephens, seeded 15th, rallied from a set down to beat Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and fifth-seeded Li Na advanced in straight sets on the women’s side. Radwanska beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa, 6-1, 6-2, while Li defeated Olga Govortsova, 6-2, 6-2.
In the day’s first big upset, a British man not named Andy Murray — 179th-ranked qualifier Daniel Evans — stunned 11th-seeded Kei Nishikori in straight sets. Evans won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in his U.S. Open debut. And unseeded Bernard Tomic rallied past Albert Ramos in five sets, winning in nearly four hours.