By Blair Henley
Some thought Venus Williams’ first-round match at the Western & Southern Open could be a tricky one. After all, her opponent Alison Riske has wins over top-15 players Agnieszka Radwanska, Kiki Mladenovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the past year alone.
But Williams didn’t get the memo. The 37-year-old steamrolled Riske, a decade her junior, in 66 minutes on a hot day in Cincinnati. Training often at her home base in South Florida no doubt prepares her for the steamy summer conditions common at US Open Series events.
“I was hoping that maybe it was affecting her maybe more than me,” she said afterward. “As professional athletes, if we decide to walk on the court, it doesn't matter what you're dealing with, you need to get out there and hold your head high and compete. And if you're not prepared, do your best to prepare again.”
A former semifinalist in Cincinnati, Williams is playing here for the sixth time, making her debut at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in 2009. That year she won two titles and reached the Wimbledon final, rising to No. 3 in the world. During her post-match press conference on Tuesday, she was asked if she feels pressure to win given the two trophies her sister Serena has collected here.
“Not really, but I want to [win],” she said, smiling. “I mean, I want to win every match. There is no fun when you lose, at all. So the aim is to get out there and be better every single time.”
A lot has happened since Williams’ first trip to Southwest Ohio. In 2011, the year doctors diagnosed her with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome, she finished the season outside the top 100, just barely working her way back into the top 50 by 2013. The media asked on a weekly basis about the possibility of retirement, but she ignored the implications. Insisting instead that a love of the game is a good enough reason to play, no matter what your ranking.
Today, she rattles off quotable quotes about persistence and hard work, and her tennis in 2017 is proof her words are more than just empty clichés. She’s reached two Grand Slam finals just this year, cementing her firmly inside the top 10 and making her a favorite to hoist the US Open trophy in September.
“Right now is just a good time to be playing tennis, a good time to be alive,” she said Tuesday, true contentment in her voice. “It's a good time to live your dream, and that's what I'm doing.”
On the court, Williams’ resume is stuffed to the brim – seven Grand Slam titles, 13 Grand Slam doubles titles, two mixed doubles titles, four Olympic gold medals, not to mention the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles. But there is one title she wears with particular pride: aunt. With Serena’s due date only a couple of months away, Venus is planning on being just as prepared as she is on the court.
“I have a lot of things in my cart that I'm about to order,” she said with a laugh. “I talked to my mom yesterday…so she really gave me the low-down. I'm going to get this stuff, and as things progress, I'll see what I need after.”