NEW YORK — The welcome and support for Venus Williams in Arthur Ashe Stadium were not the same as they were for her sister, Serena, a night earlier. Nor was the result.
Venus, who turned 42 in June, has not made any pronouncements about her future in tennis, unlike her younger sibling, and while she has been successful and influential, too – a seven-time Grand Slam champion; a Black woman in a predominantly white sport – the fanfare and attention are not the same.
Playing in front of thousands of empty blue seats in an arena quite silent at the start, Venus bowed out in the first round of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive appearance, losing 6-1, 7-6 (5) to Alison Van Uytvanck.
“She means so much to female tennis. Tennis, in general,” Van Uytvanck said. “She’s a legend.”
This was the 23rd trip to Flushing Meadows for Venus, who made it to the final in 1997 as a teen then won the trophy in 2000 and 2001, and her record 91st time participating in a major tournament.
Venus had never lost in the opening round at the U.S. Open until 2020, then was absent last year. She was off the tour in singles entirely from August 2021 until less than a month ago and is now 0-4 since her return. Her ranking – which 20 years ago was No. 1 – is 1,504th this week.
It was Serena who announced to the world on Aug. 9 that she was getting ready to step away from her playing career, leaving unclear exactly when the end would be, although she hinted it could come at the U.S. Open. So her first-round match fell into the category of a must-see happening, drawing a record crowd of more than 29,000 to the tournament grounds, including more than 23,000 in Ashe – and the atmosphere was uproarious and electric from start to finish of her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Danka Kovinic.
Now Serena, who won six of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in New York, will move on to a matchup against No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in Ashe.
And she and Venus will join forces in doubles, teaming up for the first time anywhere since 2018 this week.
Neither Williams attended the other’s first-round singles match; their mother, Oracene, and sister, Isha, were in the guest box each time. They saw Venus struggle from the outset, particularly with her used-to-be-feared serve and groundstrokes that were not calibrated correctly. So many into the net. So many landing long.
After many of her 25 unforced errors, Venus would fiddle with her racket strings or tug on the brim of her visor.
Ten of those miscues came on backhands, far outnumbering her two winners on that side.
There were a half-dozen double-faults, just three aces. She faced 12 break points and dropped four of her 10 service games.
Just 20 minutes in, there was a 4-0 lead for Van Uytvanck, a 28-year-old from Belgium who is ranked 43rd and came into the day with a 1-8 career mark at the U.S. Open.
Venus did make a bit of a stand, breaking to open the second set and holding for 2-0. But that would be her only break of the match and soon enough, Van Uytvanck was putting away a volley winner to close out the win.
A night earlier, Serena was feted during a post-match ceremony that included a video tribute from Oprah Winfrey and a lengthy on-court interview. After this match, Venus simply slung her red equipment bag over her left shoulder, carried her racket in her right hand, and quickly walked off toward the locker room.
Van Uytvanck now meets Clara Burel, who eliminated Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-4.