NEW YORK — Venus Williams stayed in the crowded hunt for the No. 1 ranking - even though she had no idea that she has a shot at that spot.
Johanna Konta, a Wimbledon semifinalist just last month, dropped out of that chase with a first-round exit as the US Open got started Monday.
The No. 9-seeded Williams overcame a mid-match lapse to pick up a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory in Arthur Ashe Stadium against Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, a 19-year-old qualifier who is ranked 135th.
Maria Sharapova made an impressive return to Grand Slam tennis, beating No. 2-seeded Simona Halep, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in the first round.
Sharapova received a wild card to play in her first major tournament since returning from a 15-month doping ban. And she made the most of it, ripping 60 winners to Halep’s 15 and wearing down the Romanian with punishing groundstrokes accented by loud grunts. She shrieked with joy when Halep hit a backhand long over the baseline to end the match.
Sharapova, whose five major titles include the 2006 US Open, next faces 59th-ranked Timea Babos of Hungary, who defeated Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5.
It was the first tour-level, main-draw match of Kuzmova’s career, and the 967th for Williams, who won the title at Flushing Meadows in 2000 and 2001, in addition to her five Wimbledon championships. Williams is in her 19th US Open; she reached the final in her 1997 debut, about eight months before Kuzmova was born.
“I had no idea what she looked like, who she was, anything. But she played amazing. She played well, served well, competed well. Definitely a match I had to earn,” said Williams, who at 37 is the oldest woman in the field. “I definitely wasn’t expecting or planning on dropping sets today. But things happen. That’s why we play the match, because you have to win the match. So it’s just all about regrouping. It’s the first round. You figure out what’s going on.”
Williams entered the US Open as one of eight womShen with a chance to rise atop the WTA rankings by tournament’s end.
Before the American’s match was over, that number of ranking contenders was reduced to seven, because the No. 7-seeded Konta was bounced by 78th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The men’s seeded losers included No. 21 David Ferrer, who was the runner-up at the 2013 French Open, No. 25 Karen Khachanov and No. 32 Robin Hasse. On the women’s side, there was No. 21 Ana Konjuh, No. 24 Kiki Bertens, and No. 32 Lauren Davis.
Fifth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki rolled to a 6-1, 7-5, first-round victory over Romanian qualifier Mihaela Buzarnescu.
Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza advanced easily, beating American Varvara Lepchenko, 6-0, 6-3.