Former world No. 1 Venus Williams battled into the second round of the Auckland Classic yesterday with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/1) win over Czech wild-card Andrea Hlavackova.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion began confidently, but could not dominate Hlavackova — ranked 134 in the world — even though she never looked in danger of losing the match.
“I knew it was going to be tough and I was really glad to close it out,” Williams said.
Williams, now ranked 47, is seeking to rejoin the game’s elite after two years marred by autoimmune disease and injury,
At 33, she is the oldest player at the Auckland tournament, a warm-up event for next month’s Australian Open.
The American, who won her last Grand Slam in 2008, produced a mixed display in her first match of the season, committing 43 unforced errors in the 98-minute clash.
Yet her trademark booming serve clicked straight into gear as she fired down four aces, with her vast experience showing as she closed out the second-set tie-breaker 7-1.
Williams will meet Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger in the next round.
Earlier in the day, the US’ Jamie Hampton, a semi-finalist in Auckland last year, struggled to overcome Austrian wild-card Tamira Paszek 1-6, 6-0, 6-3.
“It’s the first match of the season and we’re all shaking off a bit of rust,” the fifth-seeded Hampton said.
Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger ousted German seventh seed Mona Barthel 6-4, 6-3, while Spain’s Garbine Muguruza celebrated her return from a long injury layoff with a straight sets win over the US’ Christina McHale.
“I was six months injured, so for me this was a great win,” she said after the 6-4, 6-3 victory. “I don’t feel pain in the ankle so I’m happy.”
Top seed Roberta Vinci of Italy and Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic — seeded second — are to contest their first-round matches today.
In women’s doubles, Taiwan’s Chan Chin-wei and China’s Xu Yi-fan defeated Kristina Barrois of Germany and Renata Voracova of Czech Republic 7-5, 5-7, 10-4.
Additional reporting by staff writer