TORONTO — After more than 20 years on the WTA Tour, Venus Williams can finally say she won a match in Toronto.
The 37-year-old American, riding a winless streak that spanned five Rogers Cups in the Canadian city, advanced to the second round of the tournament Monday, outlasting a rain delay to beat Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in a match that ended close to 11 p.m. ET at Aviva Centre.
“I’ve got to figure out how to play my best tennis here,” Williams said with a laugh. “I enjoy the city, I’ve had a blast, I’ve just never won a match. Twenty-two years in, here I am finally raising up my hands as a winner in Toronto.
“Maybe I should celebrate tonight. I’m going to celebrate by going to bed.”
Rain forced a 90-minute delay with Williams up 2-1 in the third set. The 37-year-old American broke Begu to immediately go up 3-1 but Begu broke back in the next game and held serve to tie it 3-3.
Williams responded by taking the next three games to close out the match.
“I was just thinking, well, I want to start out with a break and then I did, and then somehow it was 3-all again and I’m like, ‘OK, that wasn’t the game plan,”’ Williams said.
“But, you know, I relax. You’re always kind of ready because you don’t know when it’s going to stop raining.”
Playing for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final three weeks ago, Williams started the match hot but was slowed down considerably in a second set that saw her double-fault four times and win just 1 of 8 of her second-serve points.
The 59th-ranked Begu, who earned her spot in the main draw with two qualifying wins over the weekend, broke Williams twice in the second set then served it out for the 6-3 win.
It took Williams just 11 minutes to build a 3-0 lead in the first set before Begu showed any sign of life by winning the fourth game. Williams broke her opponent again and held serve to take the set 6-1.
“I want to win all my matches really straight-forward, never lose serve, hit big winners,” Williams said. “I don’t know that I ever appreciated a tough match per se but I will say the wins I really remember are the tough ones. So that really puts it in perspective.”
In the final match of the evening, Montreal’s Francoise Abanda was dropped in straight sets by Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. Safarova took it 6-4, 6-4.
Williams is enjoying remarkable success this season, having reached two Grand Slam finals, including Wimbledon last month. Her Australian Open finals appearance _ where she lost to sister Serena _ marked her first Grand Slam title bout in seven and a half years.
“Two from three (Grand Slam finals) is amazing so I still think she has a chance to win a Grand Slam and she still has the power to win any of the tournaments,” World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova said of Williams during a media session earlier Monday.
While Williams has had plenty of success worldwide, she has yet to win a Rogers Cup title. Williams is competing in the Canadian tournament for the eighth time and hoping to improve on her runner-up performance in 2014 in Montreal.
She had lost her opening match at the Rogers Cup five times coming into Monday’s contest.
Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic had the first upset of the Rogers Cup, downing No. 13 Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-3. Strycova, ranked No. 26 in the world, broke her opponent six times and won 71 per cent of her first serve points.
The afternoon session saw another upset as qualifier Varvara Lepchenko of the United States edged Latvian 12th seed Jelena Ostapenko 1-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(5).
Ostapenko, the 20-year-old who won this year’s French Open, was cruising through the first set before running into trouble with her serve. Lepchenko broke Ostapenko four times in the second set and once more in the third.
In other first-round action, Daria Gavrilova beat Lara Arruabarrena 6-3, 6-3, Daria Kasatkina got past Roberta Vinci 7-6(3), 7-6(1), and Naomi Osaka advanced after Heather Watson retired in the second set, taking the match 6-1, 4-1.
Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova, Dominika Cibulkova and Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova also advanced to the second round.
Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., faces Timea Babos of Hungary in her first round match on Tuesday. Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., plays Croatian qualifier Donna Vekic in the afternoon.
Bouchard, who’s fallen from a career-high No. 5 ranking in 2014 to her current spot at 73, is hoping for a good showing at her home tournament.
“I would love to play great and in Canada because I don’t get to play here often,” Bouchard said a day before taking on her 51st-ranked opponent. “And I do feel my country’s support when I’m playing around the world. So I would love more than anything to play well for them, but it will be really hard.”