WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Three-time champion Venus Williams came back from a break down in the last two sets to avoid a major first-round surprise Tuesday against a Russian teenager playing her first match at Wimbledon.
Williams appeared on the brink of defeat, but came up with big first serves and baseline winners on crucial points to overcome Alla Kudryavtseva 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 in nearly two hours on Court 2 — known as the “Graveyard of Champions” for its history of upsets.
Williams was two points from defeat while serving at 5-4 down, 30-30, in the final set. But the Russian missed a backhand, and Williams smacked a 192 kph (119 mph) service winner to hold. Williams then broke in the next game and served out the match at love.
“I enjoy the battle,” Williams said. “I enjoy winning matches like this. This is what I do. If you want to be successful at anything, it doesn’t come easy.”
Two other Wimbledon women’s champions had a much easier time in reaching the second round. Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo beat Jamea Jackson of the United States 6-1, 6-3, while 2004 winner Maria Sharapova downed Chan Yung-jan of Taiwan 6-1, 7-5.
In men’s play, second-seeded Rafael Nadal and former champion Lleyton Hewitt were among the winners, but Britain’s Tim Henman drew the loudest cheers by outlasting Carlos Moya 13-11 in the fifth set.
For a while, it looked like Williams would go out in the opening round for the first time since her Wimbledon debut in 1997. Since then, she won the title in 2000, ‘01 and ‘05, and finished runner-up twice to her sister, Serena, in 2002 and 2003.
Serena, seated courtside with their mother, Oracene Price, called out encouragement and advice throughout the match.