WIMBLEDON, England – “Go, V!”
“V! Take your time!”
“Hang in there. Keep fighting.”
As Venus Williams struggled with her strokes Tuesday against a feisty opponent hoping to spring a significant surprise in her very first Wimbledon match, a voice kept calling out from the third row – coaching, cajoling, cheerleading.
The words of encouragement after nearly every point came from Williams’ doubles partner, practice cohort and younger sister, Serena – and they worked. Williams lost the first set, was down a break in each of the others and finally was two points from defeat before climbing all the way back to beat Russian teen Alla Kudryavtseva 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 and reach the second round at the All England Club.
“It’s so important to have that support, because I wanted definitely to play better and I was disappointed that I wasn’t playing well,” said the elder Williams, who won Wimbledon in 2000, 2001 and 2005, and lost to her sister in the 2002 and 2003 finals.
“The fact that Serena was there, my mom was there, too – they were like, ‘You can do it.’ “
She could, but barely. Still, it was one of few bright spots for the U.S. contingent at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament: U.S. men went 2-7, the women 2-4.
Through two days of play, only three of 14 American men are left: No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 9 James Blake and unseeded Amer Delic (who beat Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4).
At least that’s an improvement from the last Grand Slam tournament, where U.S. men went 0-9.
“We had everything go wrong at the French Open,” Blake said. “I just hope that doesn’t happen again for a long time, especially as long as I’m playing.”
Of 11 U.S. women at Wimbledon, nine have played, and four reached the second round, led by the Williams sisters. The No. 7-seeded Serena, who plays Alicia Molik of Australia today for a spot in the third round, showed up at Venus’ match with their mother late in the first set.
By then, her sister was in trouble, spraying groundstrokes all over the place at Court 2, known as the “Graveyard of Champions,” because so many Wimbledon winners have been upset there.
The list includes both Williams sisters (Venus last year, Serena in 2005), Pete Sampras in his final Wimbledon appearance, Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors.
Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, won her first-round match, as did defending champion Amelie Mauresmo and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic. Among the men, three-time French Open champion and 2006 Wimbledon runner-up Rafael Nadal won, as did 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt, two-time Grand Slam winner Marat Safin and No. 4 Novak Djokovic.
Kudryavtseva was among 17 Russian women who entered Wimbledon. Winners from the country included No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 8 Anna Chakvetadze and No. 11 Nadia Petrova.