Venus Williams ends Wimbledon drought

LONDON — As she left Court 2 at the All England Club after a victory Monday, Venus Williams found her hitting partner and handed him her racket bag. Then, holding a tiny red purse in her right hand, she reached out for a celebratory fist bump.

Hard to believe that Williams, a five-time champion at Wimbledon, had not won a singles match at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since 2011.

The 30th-seeded American grabbed the final five games to power through the third set and beat 56th-ranked Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

"Of course, obviously, it feels good to win," Williams said. "I mean, it feels good to play well against an opponent who is playing well and advance to the next round. That always helps."

Now 34, and slowed by an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Williams lost in the first or second round at eight of the past nine Grand Slam tournaments.

At Wimbledon, in particular, everything used to come so easily: She earned the singles trophy in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

After a fourth-round exit at Wimbledon in 2011, Williams lost her opening match in 2012. She then missed the tournament for the first time as a professional in 2013, citing a back injury.

Monday, she smacked serves at up to 113 mph (182 kph) — not as fast as she would clock at the height of her powers, but effective enough for 11 aces. That was part of an overall 41-21 edge in winners against Torro-Flor.

Next up for Williams is 41st-ranked Kurumi Nara, who owns a total of two career Wimbledon match wins. Williams has 72, two behind Steffi Graf for third-most in the Open era.

American Sloane Stephens, the 18th seed, had her run of reaching the second week at six consecutive majors — the longest active such streak among women — end with a 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) first-round loss to 109th-ranked Maria Kirilenko.

"It feels like the end of the world now, but fortunately it's not," Stephens said, shaking her head. "So that's a good thing. You've just got to go back and keep working."

American CoCo Vandeweghe continued her strong recent play on grass by beating Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Muguruza upset Serena Williams at the French Open.

Sam Stosur lost 6-3, 6-4 to Yanina Wickmayer.

In men's play, Andy Murray got off to a strong start in his bid to become the first to retain the title since Fred Perry in 1936.

In keeping with tradition, Murray played the opening match on Centre Court as the defending men's champion and beat David Goffin 6-1, 6-4, 7-5. The No. 3 seed broke Goffin four times, saved the only two break points against him and sealed the contest with his eighth ace. It was his 450th tour-level match win.

Shaquille O'Neal watched in the Royal Box.

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic won the first 11 games and swept to a 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 win over Andrey Golubev in less than 90 minutes.

"A great start," Djokovic said.

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Today's key matches

Men: Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Martin Klizan; Roger Federer (4) vs. Paolo Lorenzi; Stan Wawrinka (5) vs. Joao Sousa; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (14) vs. Jurgen Melzer, completion of suspended match.

Women: Serena Williams (1) vs. Anna Tatishvili; Maria Sharapova (5) vs. Samantha Murray.

TV: 7 a.m., ESPN; 11:30 a.m., ESPNEWS; 2 p.m., ESPN2

Venus Williams ends Wimbledon drought 06/23/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2014 8:37pm]

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