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Record-setting Venus gives Serena target to chase

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Venus Williams of the US reacts to losing a point against Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine during their 2016 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 30, 2016.  / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

Venus Williams of the US reacts to losing a point against Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine during their 2016 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 30, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

Venus Williams racked up a record-setting 72nd Grand Slam tournament appearance on Tuesday and pledged to keep playing to give sister Serena a target to chase.

The 36-year-old also extended her record in first round matches at the US Open to a perfect 18 in 18 attempts as the two-time champion battled to a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win over Kateryna Kozlova of the Ukraine.

Williams went past the previous best of major appearances of 71 she shared with fellow American Amy Frazier.

Despite being the oldest player in the draw, Venus has no intention of calling it quits any time soon after reaching her latest landmark.

“I’m grateful and I’m blessed. All I’m hoping for is just health that I can keep that record going,” said the veteran.

“I don’t know when I’m going to stop playing. I don’t have plans now. I’m playing too well to be thinking about stopping.

“I appear to be getting better each and every month. So I’d like to make that record hard for someone to break. Where is Serena at? Not far behind?”

The answer is that Serena is right there in her slipstream with the six-time US Open champion playing in her 65th Grand Slam in New York.

Venus is currently six in the world, a remarkable renaissance for a player who slipped to 134 just four years ago when she was forced off tour with Sjögren’s Syndrome.

Last year she was back in the top 10 for the first time since 2010.

In July, she made the semi-finals of Wimbledon where she has been a five-time champion and is riding a wave of nostalgia at most venues she visits.

“Once I came back from illness, it seemed like the crowd was really, really there for me, on my side,” she said of her status as everyone’s favourite senior.

“Maybe they related to what I was going through. I definitely saw a big difference once I came back from taking time off and being ill.”

Venus played the first of her 72 Slams at the French Open in 1997 and made her US Open debut later in the same year, going all the way to the final where she lost to Martina Hingis.

She went on to take the title in New York in 2000 and 2001 while adding five Wimbledons in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

She’s been a runner-up in singles at the majors on seven occasions while teaming with Serena to claim 14 doubles titles.

Despite her own record-setting appearance, Venus is backing Serena to claim an Open era new mark of 23 majors and seventh US Open title.

“I have always admired her game. Just so fearless. You can’t teach that,” she said.

“Not only fearless, but execution as well. I wouldn’t bet against her. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to do that.”

Venus will take on Germany’s Julia Goerges for a last-32 spot.


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