NEW YORK — Nineteen years ago, Venus Ebony Starr Williams wandered into her first US Open draw and, at the age of 17, managed to reach the final. She lost there to a 16-year-old kid named Martina Hingis.
But while Hingis would retire from singles after the 2007 season, Williams kept on going. And going.
On Tuesday afternoon, at the age of 36, when she stepped onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, there was a leap into tennis history. It was Venus’ 72nd appearance in a Grand Slam singles main draw, which surpassed the Open era record of fellow American Amy Frazier. At Wimbledon, Williams broke the men’s record of 70, by Fabrice Santoro, and reached the semifinals, her best major performance in six years.
In the changeover following the first game, Venus started back onto the court but turned to pick up a towel. Kozlova was already into the narrow gap between the net post and the umpire’s chair, but stopped abruptly and might have even taken a half step back to allow Venus to pass.
Such is the deference due her from a young player.
When Kozlova’s last backhand found the net, Venus unleashed one of her eternal Mona Lisa smiles and slowly raised her fist.
“Once you’re at this level,” everyone can play,” she said. “It’s always hard. It’s never easy.”