Venus back with a bang
Venus Williams walked away from the US Open last year with many people questioning whether she would ever be back.
- Related Content
The two-time champion had withdrawn from the tournament and announced she was suffering from the strength-sapping auto-immune disease Sjogren's Syndrome.
The 32-year-old had been on a downward trend and it seemed the end was nigh but, spurred on by the desire to play in a fourth Olympics, Williams pushed herself to play tournaments and slowly she is working her way back to form.
It did not look that way when she succumbed meekly in the first round at Wimbledon, but at the Olympics she was much more like her old self and won a fourth gold medal in the doubles with sister Serena.
Two weeks ago she reached the semi-finals at the Premier tournament in Cincinnati and has now brushed aside fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-3 6-1 in the first round on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was an emotional return and Williams said: "I was a little nervous in the beginning, just coming back to the Open after last year.
"It was a big deal for me. So to get back out there in front of the crowd was a wonderful feeling. It felt great once I got on a roll and started playing some good points. Then I felt very comfortable.
"It's very rewarding, it's very exciting. It's like coming full circle to be back out here, winning matches, moving forward and getting better. That's good for me."
Williams admitted it has been a slow process coming to terms with the limitations of her illness, which she first felt the symptoms of back in 2007.
She said: "I didn't even understand what I was going through at that time last year. I feel like just this summer I've come to acceptance.
"It takes a long time to come to acceptance, especially when you're an athlete. You see yourself as this healthy person, that nothing can defeat you.
"So it takes a while before you can kind of see yourself as someone with flaws and chips in the armour. Now that I have come to accept it, it helps me a lot in how I need to prepare for my matches, the mindset I need to come into it.
"It's not as intimidating. I definitely was intimidated in a lot of matches this year, learning to come back and play with this. So I've come a long way mentally, emotionally, physically as well. I'm sure this is just the beginning of learning."
Next up for Williams is a big test of her form against sixth seed Angelique Kerber, who has not looked back since her surprise run to the semi-finals here last year.
Williams is only ranked 46th at the moment and therefore unseeded, but she retains hopes of climbing a lot higher.
She added: "It never happens the way you want it to. That's one thing I've found out throughout my whole career. When you don't make it to one goal, just make some more.
"But, of course, I'm looking forward to the top 10, all that great stuff. I feel like I have it in me."
Kerber brushed aside Britain's Anne Keothavong 6-2 6-0 while second seed and Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska eased fears about a shoulder injury with a 6-1 6-1 victory over Russia's Nina Bratchikova.
Radwanska, 23, said: "I'm just very happy that I could give it my best in the first match. It's always difficult. Every week it's a different surface, different balls. My shoulder feels better right now."
Fast-rising American Sloane Stephens reached the third round last year and she made a great start with a 6-3 6-4 victory over 22nd seed Francesca Schiavone.
Ana Ivanovic, seeded 12th, saw off Elina Svitolina 6-3 6-2, while there were also wins for Sara Errani, Jelena Jankovic, Dominika Cibulkova and Roberta Vinci but seeds Peng Shuai, Monica Niculescu, Tamira Paszek and Klara Zakopalova crashed out.
Eighth seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki became the biggest casualty of the first round when she crashed out 6-2 6-2 to Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu.
It was another low in a miserable year for the Dane, who also lost in the first round of Wimbledon, but there were extenuating circumstances as she had her right knee heavily taped.
Wozniacki sustained the injury bidding for her fifth straight New Haven title last week and pulled out during her semi-final against Maria Kirilenko.
The 22-year-old said: "You always want to go in and do your best no matter what's happening out there. I tried.
"I didn't play particularly well, made too many errors. It's unfortunate because it's a huge tournament, a tournament you want to play well in.
"I think it's a temporary issue. Hopefully it will get better quickly. It's frustrating to have some injuries, but it happens to everyone. It's just about moving on."
Wozniacki refused to be too downhearted about her season, adding: "The year's not done yet. Definitely the grand slams this year haven't been great.
"After the year's finished you can evaluate, you can see what was good and wasn't so good and work from there. I still have plenty of years in me. Hopefully I can just turn it around and play even better."
Kirilenko is one of the form players of the WTA Tour and the 14th seed was an easy winner, 6-2 6-1 over South Africa's Chanelle Scheepers.