NEW YORK — Venus Williams was dressed as if going to a garden party, her outfit covered in flowers that could only come from imagination and not reality. And some of her hair was dyed pink to match the flowers.
But Williams came to Arthur Ashe Stadium on the first day of the U.S. Open with plans that had nothing to do with flowery daintiness.
Summoning power she hasn't shown in almost two years, since she announced she was dealing with an immune system condition, the 33-year-old two-time U.S. Open winner upset 12th-seeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, 6-1, 6-2, in a first-round match Monday.
Venus' younger sister was even more dominant. Playing a night match against 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, top-seeded Serena Williams won, 6-0, 6-1.
Serena's timing was impeccable. It began raining about 10 seconds after Schiavone sent a forehand long on match point, and that rain caused cancellation of the final match of the night between seventh-seeded Roger Federer and Grega Zemlja.
Serena has a record this season of 61-4 and she won her second French Open title.
Schiavone said she uttered a particular expletive when she saw the draw that had her name next to Serena's in the first round.
"I always have thought she is one of the best athletes ever in the world," Schiavone said. "We are speaking about someone that is really unique. But you know that. I don't have to say that."
Serena didn't hit a service ace and couldn't remember the last time such a thing happened. But she was pleased with the other parts of her game.
"I definitely was good off the ground," she said.
But the day belonged to Venus, even Serena agreed.
"I was definitely happy to see Venus win," Serena said. "I was really happy for her. She's been working hard and had a tough opponent. For her to come through was just awesome."
Venus said she is not letting her chronic illness, known as Sjogren's syndrome, bother her.
"I enjoy my life," she said after the match. "I do the best I can, I'm always looking for ways to improve my heath and I always hold my head up high through everything."
The first day of the final Grand Slam tournament of the year proved much more difficult for two other young Americans.
Ryan Harrison, 21, had the unlucky draw of facing second-seeded Rafael Nadal and the result was predictable. Harrison lost, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, and had nothing that threatened Nadal, who missed this tournament last year because of knee injuries.
And 20-year-old Sloane Stephens, who is seeded 15th and is considered a potential successor to the Williams sisters, barely avoided an upset by the 110th-ranked player in the world.
Stephens eventually prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) against Mandy Minella of Luxembourg. The match took 2 hours 48 minutes and Stephens' first word when it was over was "whew."
But it was the win by Venus Williams that seemed most celebrated by the fans.
She was especially pleased that she hung in during a particularly long game, the fifth in the second set. Fatigue is one of the components of Sjogren's syndrome and Williams seemed to have run two miles in that single game.
"I just realized I had to hang in there," she said. "I didn't want to lose serve and have the momentum change. I realize maybe I'm not exactly on my game or getting the first game points like I used to be accustomed to. But I have to keep going for it and get comfortable in these positions."
Venus is the last American to win consecutive titles here. That was in 2000 and 2001. Even Serena, who has won four U.S. Open titles, has never won two in a row.
Another on-the-rise young American woman, Jamie Hampton, won her first-round match, 6-4, 6-2, over Spain's Lara Arruabarrena. Hampton, who lives in Auburn, Ala., said she has been used to being the hunter and not the hunted in her career. Now she is seeded, 23rd here, and was the favorite Monday. "I'm just going to keep thinking I'm the hunter," Hampton said.
Nadal said that although he missed a lot of places last year when he was out because of his injuries, sitting and watching the U.S. Open was particularly difficult.
"Today, my first match on Arthur Ashe after two years is a great feeling," he said.
He played at a good level and said it was proof he is doing the right things. Nadal, 27, is noted for dominating on clay courts but not so much on hard courts, yet his win over Harrison was his 16th straight on the hard courts this year.
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