Venus sets up Azarenka date
Tokyo - Former world number one Venus Williams, resplendent in a floral dress and pink dreadlocks, has shown glimpses of her old power by blasting past German Mona Barthel 6-3, 6-1 to reach the second round of the Pan Pacific Open on Sunday.
No longer the force of old and currently only 62nd in the world, the 33-year-old American still had too much firepower for Barthel in Tokyo, taking just 63 minutes to sweep past her 34th-ranked opponent.
The seven-time grand slam singles winner, whose career has been blighted since being diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Sjogren's Syndrome in 2011, faces an uphill task to extend her stay, however, with top seed Victoria Azarenka -- runner-up to Serena Williams at the US Open earlier this month -- her next opponent.
Carefully coiffed braids poking through the top of her sun visor, Williams took the first set with a fierce forehand which caught the back of the baseline and wrapped up proceedings by bludgeoning a backhand past Barthel.
Williams celebrated with a polite curtsy to an appreciative crowd at the venue for the 2020 Olympic tennis.
She shrugged when asked about Azarenka.
"I've played so many matches in my career I'm ready for whatever happens on the court," she told reporters after making her first appearance at the Tokyo meet since reaching the quarter-finals in 2009.
"I've seen so many big matches between Azarenka and Serena -- their final at the (US) Open was awesome. Hopefully that will help me. I'm excited to be back and the next step is just to go out and play well."
Ninth seed Sloane Stephens, one of the new generation of American players, who once claimed the Williams sisters refused to sign an autograph for her at a tournament in Florida when she was 12, thrashed Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the second round.
In other matches, twice major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia flattened Argentine qualifier Paula Ormaechea 6-1, 6-2 while 14th-seeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens was tested in a 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 win over Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who also came through the qualifying draw of the 30th edition of the tournament.
Fifteenth seed Sorana Cirstea kicked off the $2.3 million event with a routine 6-4, 6-4 victory over Julia Goerges.
World number one Serena Williams, who won her 17th grand slam singles title at the US Open, pulled out at the last minute due to fatigue while twice Pan Pacific champion Maria Sharapova withdrew with shoulder pain.
Results from the first day of the WTA Pan Pacific Open on Sunday (x denotes seeding):
Samantha Stosur (AUS x12) bt Alize Cornet (FRA) 2-6, 6-4, 6-1
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) bt Paula Ormaechea (ARG) 6-1, 6-2
Sloane Stephens (USA x9) bt Stefanie Voegele (SUI) 6-3, 6-2
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL x14) bt Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) 7-6 (7-4), 7-5
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK x16) bt Urszula Radwanska (POL) 6-3, 6-3
Venus Williams (USA) bt Mona Barthel (GER) 6-3, 6-1
Sorana Cirstea (ROM x15) bt Julia Goerges (GER) 6-4, 6-4
Belinda Bencic (SUI) bt Daria Gavrilova (RUS) 6-2, 5-7, 7-5
Elina Svitolina (UKR) bt Kurumi Nara (JPN) 2-6, 7-5, 6-3
Lucie Safarova (CZE) bt Polona Hercog (SLO) 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (7-2)
Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (ESP) bt Klara Zakopalova (CZE) 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 6-3