Venus Williams battled hard to win her Family Circle Cup opener, and then a familiar face in the crowd caught one of her autographed tennis balls - who was it?
WTA Staff

CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Venus Williams rebounded from a second set disaster to beat Barbora Zahlavova Strycova as the first round of the Premier-level Family Circle Cup wrapped up in Charleston.

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After taking a routine first set, Williams totally lost control of the match for about half an hour, losing seven games in a row to drop the second set 6-0 and fall behind 1-0 in the third. Zahlavova Strycova even had three break points to go up 2-0 in the third set - but the No.11-seeded Williams found her range just in time, eventually regaining control and closing the tenacious Czech out, 63 06 75.

She had four match points at 5-4 in the third but ended up serving it out at love a few games later.

"She raised the level of her game, and we had some close games, and then she just got the better of me and played really well," Williams said of Zahlavova Strycova. "I just kept fighting till the end.

"I've actually been pretty sick lately, so it was a little rough out there today. But circumstances like that you really just have to play your way into the tournament and just continue to feel better."

Williams, who won the Family Circle Cup in 2004, talked about the special vibe she feels here.

"It just feels so American here," the former World No.1 said. "It's amazing. The crowd really boosts you up. Their whole heart is in it, and you get that feeling. It makes me want to give more, too. I mean, I think I give more all the time, but here it's like, 'Okay, I've gotta win for myself and for the fans as well.'"

Speaking of fans, there was a very special person in the crowd for Williams' match - Gladys Knight - and after the match the 'Empress Of Soul' managed to catch one of Williams' autographed tennis balls.

Williams was asked in her presser what she thought of her catching that ball.

"I know, right? She's got some hand-eye coordination; sings and plays sports. That's awesome. But she's sweet, and I've known her through the years, so it was a nice surprise to see here there.

"But I didn't know she was coming!"

Other first round winners included No.12 seed Daniela Hantuchova, No.13 seed Elena Vesnina, No.14 seed Andrea Petkovic and No.16 seed Zhang Shuai. Zhang had by far the tightest win of the bunch, rallying from 4-2 down in both the second and third sets to squeak past Hsieh Su-Wei, 36 76(5) 76(0).

Gladys Knight