MASON, Ohio — Venus Williams beat a top-20 player for the first time in four years, rallying from big deficits in both sets to knock off 16th-ranked Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the Western & Southern Open on Monday.
The 43-year-old Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, improved her match record this year to 3-5. She came in ranked 533rd.
Williams trailed 4-1 in each set but fought back each time, converting six of nine break points in the match. She also endured two rain delays.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘I just want to win this point — not the match, just one point,'” Williams said. “When you break things down like that, big problems become small problems. That’s how I did that.”
Williams’ hopes of competing in the Australian Open in January were dashed after she suffered a hamstring problem at the rain-hit Auckland Classic, and she only returned in June, having decided to skip the French Open. She then injured her right knee during her Wimbledon defeat to Elina Svitolina last month.
“I think I’m at a better level than I started the year, to be honest,” Williams said. “I was actually worried about the rain delay, because I’m traumatized by Auckland and all those rain delays and getting injured after that, cooling down and changing serves, going in. I’m like, ‘Oh my God I can’t let that happen again to me.'”
Williams said playing more regularly has helped her build momentum.
“My serve is better,” she said. “My second serve is better. It’s really about playing matches. You can’t replicate it. Especially after you take a large amount of time off. You have to keep putting yourself in that position to just play. So that’s really where I am right now. I’m fine game-wise, but playing matches is a different ball game.”
Williams had lost her previous 10 matches against top-20 players since beating then-No. 5 Kiki Bertens in 2019 at Cincinnati.
“There’s a lot of adversity,” Stephens said. “You manage it the best you can. It’s tough for everyone.”
The 30-year-old Stephens will face defending champion and No. 6 seed Caroline Garcia in the second round.
On the men’s side, No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Auger-Aliassime, a Canadian who reached the US Open semifinals two years ago, improved to 3-8 over his past 11 matches.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.