Tenth seed Venus Williams used all her experience and guile to beat Belgium's brave Elise Mertens.
WTA Staff

LONDON, Great Britain - No.10 seed Venus Williams overcame a spirited first-set showing from Elise Mertens to ease herself into her 20th Wimbledon campaign, progressing 7-6(7), 6-4.

By taking the court today, the American equalled sister Serena for the most main draw matches played at the All England Club among active players.

"I never thought that I'd play this many, but I'm grateful to be here and to play," Williams told reporters afterwards. "I love the game."

Venus got the early break, allowing her to pull away to a 3-0 lead, but some lax returning allowed the Belgian to get a break back, and then level things up with a firm hold of serve.

Both players were reluctant to slip up again, demonstrating some formidable service games - and there was an inevitable feel when the first set went to a tiebreak. Mertens held her nerve and saved two set points on her serve with some intense rallying; and it took an errant netted forehand on the fifth set point to hand the set to the American five-time champion.

In the second set it was again Venus who got the decisive break - but once more Mertens showed guts as she battled to save two match points on her serve.

A brief rain delay briefly interrupted the 37-year-old's momentum, but she kept her focus to progress in straight sets shortly after their return to court.

"It wasn't easy to convert the last points," Williams admitted afterwards. "She played her best tennis there. It's never over until it's over. The last point was nice to end it without, you know, something happening."

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