- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

NEW YORK | Venus Williams was bothered by a bad knee and distracted by more than a half-dozen foot faults. What never fazed her was a big deficit.

Quite close to losing in the U.S. Open’s first round for the first time, Williams came all the way back from a set and a break down to beat 47th-ranked Vera Dushevina of Russia 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3 on Monday night.

The third-seeded Williams, twice the champion at Flushing Meadows, had her left knee bandaged by a trainer after the third game. The American also had plenty of trouble serving: She piled up 10 double-faults and was called for seven foot faults.

Asked during a postmatch interview on court what it’s going to take for her knee to be better for the second round, Williams said: “A lot of prayer. It’s going to be a lot of prayer. Everything I can throw at it. But, you know, I’m tough.”

She sure proved that on this night.

Dushevina broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set and was three points from winning at 5-4. But Williams, who never has lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, won the next seven games.

Still, there was a bit of shakiness left. Up 4-0 in the third set, Williams dropped three games in a row before righting herself again.

“I had some issues, and I needed some support,” Williams said, earning a roar from the fans. “I’m not one to complain. Everyone has injuries they’re dealing with. I did my best tonight despite everything I was going through.”

One measure of how big an upset this would have been: Williams owns seven Grand Slam titles; Dushevina only once has been as far as the fourth round at a major tournament. And then there’s this: Williams entered Monday 43-3 in first-round matches at tennis’ top four tournaments, including 10-0 at the U.S. Open.

Even though Williams improved those marks in the end, the match did serve as the most intriguing encounter of a first day that included victories for defending champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, Venus’ younger sister.

Tuesday’s play started with sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova cruising to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Julia Goerges on Arthur Ashe Stadium, while on the grandstand court, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga routed American Chase Buchanan 6-0, 6-2, 6-1.

Others scheduled to play Tuesday were top-seeded Dinara Safina, 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and 2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova on the women’s side, along with second-seeded Andy Murray, fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic and America’s next possible breakout star, Sam Querrey, on the men’s side.

On Monday, Kim Clijsters, who recently came out of retirement, won her first match at the U.S. Open since claiming her lone Grand Slam title in New York in 2005.

And Andre Agassi came back to the site of the final match of his career in 2006, participating in an opening-night ceremony.

By beating 18-year-old NCAA champion Devin Britton of Jackson, Miss., 6-1, 6-3, 7-5, Federer ran his winning streak to 35 matches at the tournament and became the first tennis player to surpass $50 million in career prize money. Williams also beat an American teenager in straight sets, eliminating Alexa Glatch of Newport Beach, Calif., 6-4, 6-1.

“Tricky match for me, playing a guy who’s got absolutely nothing to lose,” said Federer, seeking a sixth consecutive U.S. Open title.

Other winners included John Isner, the 6-foot-9 American who knocked off 28th-seeded Victor Hanescu of Romania in straight sets, including a 16-14 tiebreaker in the second; No. 21 James Blake; and French Open runner-up Robin Soderling.

Two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo won easily, as did No. 7 Vera Zvonareva, No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, No. 10 Flavia Pennetta, No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 14 Marion Bartoli, whose next opponent is Clijsters.

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