By Rachel Cohen
NEW YORK: Venus Williams had been 14-0 in the first round of the U.S. Open, though she never had to face an opponent ranked in the top 30 at that stage.
Williams was usually a seeded player, but after two years of illness and injury, the seven-time major champion was the one pulling the upset Monday when she defeated Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens.
Her ranking down to No. 60, Williams beat the 12th-seeded Flipkens 6-1, 6-2 for one of her biggest wins since she pulled out of this tournament two years ago because of Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease.
“For me, I stay positive because I know I can play great tennis,” Williams said. “Sometimes you just have to go through more than what you want to go through. Sometimes you have to have losses. When I had losses, it always motivates me a lot to do better and to work harder.”
The 33-year-old looked strong Monday, purple braids poking out of her visor that matched her floral dress. Williams fought off three break points at 2-2 in the second set in a game that went to six deuces.
Bothered by a lower back injury, Williams was playing just her third event since a first-round loss at the French Open. She hadn’t defeated a top-20 opponent since October.
Rafael Nadal’s stay at Wimbledon ended in his opener. In his first Grand Slam match since — and first U.S. Open since 2011 — the second-seeded Spaniard rolled past American Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Nadal, who missed last year’s tournament because of a left knee injury, improved to 16-0 on hard courts this year.
“For me, the chance to be back here playing — I have a chance to compete this year — is great,” Nadal said.
“I am enjoying the week before practicing. Today the first match after two years in the Arthur Ashe, so is a great feeling.”
American Sloane Stephens, seeded 15th, rallied from a set down to beat Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
In the day’s first big upset, a British man not named Andy Murray — 179th-ranked qualifier Daniel Evans — stunned 11th-seeded Kei Nishikori in straight sets.
Evans won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in his U.S. Open debut.