Williams back to winning ways

The Bolton News: Venus Williams made a winning start at Wimbledon Venus Williams made a winning start at Wimbledon

Venus Williams ended her three-year wait for another Wimbledon victory and insisted she has "nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing to lose" in her pursuit of late-career grand slam glory.

The 34-year-old has also left almost nothing to the imagination in an ESPN Magazine 'Body Issue' photo shoot, it was announced this week, five years after sister Serena was its cover star.

And the message from Venus, who like Serena is a five-time former Wimbledon singles champion, is that she is playing by her own rules, ready to tackle any challenge that comes her way.

On a day that saw wins for fellow leading women Li Na and Victoria Azarenka, neither of whom possess nearly the top-level experience of Williams, it was refreshing to see the American come through her opening test against Spanish clay-courter Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

A 6-4 4-6 6-2 victory on Court Two was her first since getting to the third round in 2011. A year later she lost in the first round to Russian Elena Vesnina, and last year a back injury kept her out of Wimbledon.

"You can't really play tennis if you can't really serve. It was in my best interest not to come here," Williams said on Monday.

Now though, Williams is as fit and healthy as she can be, while managing the auto-immune disorder Sjogren's syndrome that has been a hindrance in recent seasons.

A power game suited to fast grass made Williams the player to beat at Wimbledon, until her younger sister assumed that mantle, but she believes the surfaces on tour are now too standardised in the way they play.

"Unfortunately I think the courts are becoming so similar that it's not encouraging players to play different," Williams said.

"I try not to complain too much. No-one's going to want to see me coming, 'There she goes again, she talks too much'. I try not to let that be me.

"I'm not really here to surprise anyone. No-one is going to get behind you and pet you and say, 'It's okay, you can do it'. I have to do that for myself.

"I have nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing to lose. So for me it's about continually playing better and getting back up every single time when things might not go my way. It's not going to go the way of 127 people in this draw. It's going to go the way of one person."

Williams was also asked about her decision to strip off, in a manner designed to show off her athleticism, for the US sports magazine. Men's ace Tomas Berdych has also posed.

"I think I did it because Serena did it," Williams said. "I think she was a big influence on me."

Eighth seed and two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka has reached two Wimbledon semi-finals but not yet gone further.

She was troubled in the second set of her first-round match by veteran Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, but pulled through 6-3 7-5.

It was Azarenka's first win since reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals in January, but this is only her third tournament in that time because of a foot injury.

Azarenka suffered a knee injury during her opening match on Court One last year, that led her to pull out of a scheduled second-round clash, and she was back to the scene of that scare for the tussle with Lucic-Baroni.

"I don't remember last year much. It's been so long ago," Azarenka said. " It was great today. To step for the first time on the court with the fresh grass, with those lines just lined, it was beautiful."

Chinese second seed Li was a 7-5 6-2 victor against Poland's Paula Kania but does not fancy her chances of adding to the grand slam titles she has claimed in Australia and France.

"I never think I can play well in the grass court," Li said.

Australia's former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, seeded 17th, was beaten 6-3 6-4 by Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer to become the first big-name casualty.

Sloane Stephens, the 21-year-old American, was a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon in 2013 but made a first-day exit this time, folding to Maria Kirilenko. Russian Kirilenko, who reached the last eight two years ago, prevailed 6-2 7-6 (8/6) on Court 18.

Stephens, who had reached at least the third round of every grand slam since the 2012 French Open, said: "It feels like the end of the world now, but fortunately it's not."

Japanese 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm was edged out 3-6 6-4 7-5 by Russian 22nd seed Ekaterina Makarova.

The 2011 champion Petra Kvitova enjoyed a 6-3 6-0 stroll against fellow Czech Andrea Hlavackova, while former world number one Caroline Wozniacki was looking well set to join her when rain brought an early end to play, with the Dane leading 6-3 2-0 against Israel's Shahar Peer.

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