Venus Williams went onto Rod Laver Arena right after Shelby Rogers’ upset win over fourth-seeded Simona Halep, a result that sent the former French Open finalist out in the first round of the Australian Open again.
Back-to-back first-round exits at the season’s first major was not how Williams planned to mark her 73rd Grand Slam tournament.
The 36-year-old Williams made it two wins for American women on the center court at Melbourne Park on the first day, twice rallying from a break down in the first set to beat Kateryna Kozlova, 7-6 (5), 7-5.
The seven-time major winner lost in the first round of the Australian Open last year to eventual semifinalist Johanna Konta. Despite her 48 unforced errors, Williams made a more positive start this time.
“It’s never easy playing the first round — you’re just trying to find the rhythm,” Williams said. “She played amazing. It’s very satisfying to get through a match against an opponent who is on fire.”
Rogers caused the first upset of the tournament, and did it on the center court, with her 6-3, 6-1 win over Halep.
Playing just her second main draw match ever at the Australian Open, the No. 52-ranked Rogers broke the 2014 French Open finalist’s serve four times. It was the second year in a row that Halep lost in the first round at Melbourne Park, and the fourth time overall.
Rogers made a surprising run to the French Open quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Garbine Muguruza last year, when she was ranked No. 108, but only advanced to the second round at one other tournament in 2016.
Her only previous win against a top 10 player was in 2014, when she beat then No. 8-ranked Eugenie Bouchard in Montreal, but the run at Roland Garros gave her confidence.
“The biggest thing I took away from that was just that I can compete with the top players in the world and I’m good enough,” Rogers said. “So I have definitely carried that away from the French Open and just been enjoying it a little bit. There has been a lot of positive feedback, which has been nice.”
Halep, a two-time quarterfinalist in Australia, said she’d been hampered by pain in her left knee that was compounded by the pressure of the match.
“Definitely (Rogers) played well. I think she played very high standard,” Halep said. “She was aggressive, and she hit very strong.”
Seventh-seeded Muguruza saved a set point in the first set, needed a medical timeout and had to fend off three break-point chances at 1-4 in the second set before advancing with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Marina Erakovic.
Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig raced through her opening match, beating Patricia Tig, 6-0, 6-1, and No. 20 Zhang Shuai and No. 27 Irina-Camelia Begu also advanced.
Australian teenager Destanee Aiava’s milestone match ended in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) loss to German qualifier Mona Barthel. The 16-year-old Melbourne high school student became the first player born in this millennium to play a main draw match at a major.
In two all-U.S. matches, Samantha Crawford defeated Lauren Davis, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, and Alison Riske beat Madison Brengle, 7-5, 6-3.
Two other seeded players lost early women’s matches, with Varvara Lepchenko beating No. 19 Kiki Bertens, 7-5, 7-6 (5), and former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic beating No. 26 Laura Siegemund, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.
On the men’s side, fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori needed 3 hours, 34 minutes to beat Andrey Kuznetsov, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-2.
There were two early retirements. No. 10-seeded Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, was leading 6-1 when Luca Vanni retired from their match, and Jeremy Chardy was leading 4-0 when Nicolas Almagro retired with an injured right calf muscle in the first set.
No. 27 Bernard Tomic and No. 29 Viktor Troicki advanced along with No. 31 Sam Querrey, who beat Quentin Halys, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4, and Ryan Harrison.