There was a Williams sister out there in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night, much to the delight of spectators who offered a standing ovation at the end of the match. Except this time it was Venus, not Serena, and there was no ceremony, no formal farewell – and, unlike a year ago, no indication of what the future might hold.
Her younger sister’s playing days are done after one last hurrah at Flushing Meadows in 2022, but Venus Williams is still competing, still striving, even if her age, 43, and a bum knee did her no favors on this muggy evening. Williams was eliminated 6-1, 6-1 by Belgian qualifier Greet Minnen in the first round of the US Open, her most lopsided loss in 100 career matches at the grand slam tournament where she won the trophy in 2000 and 2001.
The crowd that seemed thrilled just to get a chance to see Williams play in person sent her toward the locker room with applause and yells. She gave a quick wave and a smile as she walked off, her red racket bag slung over her left shoulder.
“It was really great to hear the support. I know the fans have been here for me forever, so that’s fantastic to still have that support even more than ever,” said Williams, the oldest player in the field. “So it’s a beautiful thing, and I love the Open.”
The first 21 times Williams entered the event, she went 21-0 in the first round. But this was her third consecutive opening-round loss since.
Afterward in Ashe, defending champion Carlos Alcaraz advanced to the second round when his opponent, Dominik Koepfer, stopped playing while trailing 6-2, 3-2. Koepfer turned his ankle on the match’s eighth point and, while he initially continued after getting treated, eventually conceded.
The 26-year-old Minnen – who threw an uppercut and raised her arms after winning – was born in August 1997, the month before Williams reached the US Open final for the first time.
“For me, it was incredible to play a legend like her. I have huge respect,” said Minnen, who is ranked 97th and entered the evening with a 4-12 career record in Grand Slam matches. “To be there at 43 years old, it’s amazing really.”
Williams owns seven major championships, including five at Wimbledon. But she has lost in the first or second round in each of her past 12 slam appearances, including bowing out at the All England Club in July after taking a tumble in her opening match.
Various injuries have limited her to 10 matches this season – she is 3-7 – after just four in all of 2022. The latest problem is with a knee that forced her to withdraw from a tune-up tournament in Cleveland a little more than a week ago and left her unsure of whether she would be able to play in New York.
But there she was.
“I have to really thank my doctors for helping me to get here. That in itself was a blessing,” Williams said. “I love playing here. I really gave it my all today. I really played some great shots, but she had some incredible answers to that. I wish I could have been more prepared for that.”
The temperature was in the low 70s Fahrenheit (20s Celsius), but the humidity was 90%, and Williams was not able to stay in the points with Minnen.
It was quickly 3-0, with Williams – owner of what used to be one of the most intimidating serves in the game – broken twice right away. She lost each of her first half-dozen second-serve points.
Minnen did what she could to keep Williams off-balance, particularly with drop shots, and it worked.
“Already when I was five, six years old, she was on TV almost every slam. She was going so far in every tournament,” said Minnen, who acknowledged feeling jittery before the match because of the opponent and the size of the largest grand slam stadium. “She’s always been an amazing player and she still is now. I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game to beat her. Even though she’s a bit older, she keeps hitting the ball very good.”
For more than two decades, Venus and Serena traveled the world together, swapping the No 1 ranking and the biggest trophies in their sport the way other siblings might share clothes or hobbies.
Now that Serena, who recently had her second baby, is done playing on tour, there are inevitable questions about how much longer Venus will compete. She has grown used to those queries and grown adept at deflecting them and did so again Tuesday, unwilling to say for sure whether she will play again this season, let alone beyond.
Was it hard to be at Flushing Meadows without her sister?
“I mean, I was very much aware that Serena wouldn’t be playing the tournament, so I think I was OK. I’ve had a chance to get used to that idea even before she retired,” the elder Williams said. “I kind of knew that was coming.”