NEW YORK — Venus Williams was bothered by a bad knee and distracted by more than a half-dozen foot faults. What never fazed her: 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 Monday night.
“I had a challenge on my hands today. But I wanted to win,” said the No. 3-seeded Williams, who made 54 unforced errors. “Each good shot, and each not-so-good shot, I put behind me and looked forward to the next one.”
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.
Afterward, Williams wouldn’t discuss her knee problem in any detail.
“You could see I had some issues,” she said. “I don’t really talk about my injuries, historically, and I’m not going to start now.”
Asked 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.
“Next few points,” Dushevina said, “she played great.”
That is true: Williams, who never has lost in the U.S. Open’s first round, 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 once again.
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 two-hour 43-minute match did serve as the most intriguing encounter of a Day 1 that included victories for defending champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, Venus’ younger sister.
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.
Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., started the U.S. Open off right with a 6-1, 7-6 (7) victory over Laura Granville. Valerie Tetreault of Ste-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., wasn’t as lucky, dropping 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 to Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia.
On the men’s side, Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., pushed Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in a 3 1/2 hour match before falling 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-1.
Venus Williams won the tournament in 2000 and 2001, and while she hasn’t been back to the final since losing to her sister in 2002, her earliest departure from New York came in the fourth round in 2004.
She looked headed for the exit at several moments Monday, particularly after Dushevina took the last four points of the first set after trailing 5-3 in the tiebreaker. Williams led by that score when she pounded an apparent service winner, one that would have given her a 6-3 lead and three set points.
But a line judge called Williams for a foot fault, her fourth. She seemed to lose her focus, turning to the official to ask, “Which foot?” When Williams went back to the baseline for the second serve, she netted it for a double-fault.
“It threw me off,” Williams said. “After that, I just got a little tentative.”
In the second set, Williams fell behind 3-1, then trailed 5-4. But she broke Dushevina there with a backhand winner, and began to hit her spots more.
Williams played most of her matches en route to the final at Wimbledon this year with a bulky tape job on her left knee. But she began Monday’s match without any such help. Three games in, she called for the trainer.
“I had some issues, and I needed some support,” she 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.”