Nearly three decades after winning her first professional match, Venus Williams is still going strong - and still setting records.
The 40-year-old extended her remarkable record of having won a WTA Tour match for the last 28 consecutive seasons with victory in the opening round of the Yarra Valley Classic.
Having first won a professional match as a 14-year-old in 1994, Williams holds the record for most seasons in a row with at least one win on the tour, with Martina Navratilova (25) and sister Serena (24) closest to her.
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Speaking after her impressive 6-1, 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus in Melbourne, Williams said: "I’m still here, I’m still good at this, I love my job.
It was great to get back on the court. It’s been quite a few months. Definitely not easy to play the first one. Still finding your footing. As you know, it’s a sprint out here on the WTA. Everyone is super talented. I was really happy to play pretty well.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams saved all seven break points she faced and won in 65 minutes to set up a second-round clash with Petra Kvitova.
Ranked No 74 in the world, this was the first match since October for Williams, who in 2009 was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease with symptoms including joint pain and fatigue.
"It’s awesome to be back, I love Australia, it’s a beautiful moment,” she said.
It’s so hard to play the first match of the season, and I just think that maybe I just handled the nerves a little bit better.
"It’s not easy. Of course, I have a lot of experience, and I think that helps. Just trying to get my feet wet, trying to compete here, and feel good about what I'm doing.”
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The Yarra Valley Classic is one of several warm-up events ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on February 8.
Williams has never won the opening Grand Slam of the year – coming closest in 2017 when she lost in the final to Serena – and is unlikely to start as one of the favourites in 2021.
However, she is enjoying playing competitive tennis again after being in quarantine for 14 days with Serena in Adelaide.
It’s amazing. Really, the whole process of making this happen was really huge, to say the least. Like I said on the court, I was really grateful for Tennis Australia, I’m grateful to be here, and I want to try to enjoy the moment while I compete well and I’m happy so far that it’s been done in a way that everyone is healthy. So far, so good. Just excited.
Serena Williams also started her season with a win as she beat Daria Gavrilova at the Yarra Valley Classic.
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