Grand slam champion Venus Williams speaks with the media, including Rick Limpert, BB&T Atlanta Open media and communications manager, before her exhibition match Sunday. Williams faced Genie Bouchard to open the tournament.

Venus Williams returns to Atlanta, edges Bouchard in exhibition

The first women’s match in BB&T Atlanta Open history featured one of the most well-renown names in sports. Venus Williams, 37, faced Genie Bouchard, 23, in an exhibition match on Sunday at Atlantic Station, kicking off the week-long men’s event.

Williams won the match, 6-4, 7-6. The second set went into a tie-breaker (7-4).

It was Williams’ first match in Atlanta since a 2004 exhibition against her sister, Serena.

“Atlanta is a really huge tennis town,” Williams said. “So I know that there’s going to be a lot of excitement today. … Tennis is well supported here. The town’s been really fortunate to have a lot of great men’s tennis here. But also American players who come support the event, love the event.”

Williams has been thinking about visiting Atlanta for a while.

“It’s been a long, long time,” she said. “But more than anything, I’ve been looking forward to the tennis here. So I’ve been playing a ton more and preparing for this match.”

Williams said she loves that the tournament is located in the middle of the city. She feels it helps the sport’s exposure and makes for a more engaged audience.

One of the challenges facing Atlanta Open competitors is the temperatures. It can be grueling to play in the Southern heat, though that’s not a new concept to Williams.

“I live down in Florida,” she said, laughing. “The heat is not fun, so you have to have some sort of special character to get through the hot days. Pray for a night match.

“You try not to think about the pain, you think about the result. These are two, two-and-a-half hours of my life. So how am I going to handle just this? It’s definitely not easy to win though.”

Williams said she’s never participated in a gender barrier-breaking match, but that it’s exciting to be part of something so meaningful.

“When we decided to add women this year, there was really only one choice for us,” said Eddie Gonzalez, the Atlanta Open’s director and chief development officer. “And that was our great American champion, former U.S. Open champion Venus Williams.”

Williams has faced Bouchard twice previously, in 2013 and 2014. The two split the meetings.

“I haven’t played her in a number of years,” Williams said before the match. “So it’s been a while. She plays a game that’s similar to mine. She’s short-strokes, moves around the court well, very competitive. So I’ll have to see what’s working tonight because I haven’t played her in so long. So I don’t know exactly what the game plan will be.

“It’s an opportunity for us to play great tennis, and to be very loose. Just to be entertaining.”

Bouchard agreed.

“It’s an honor to share a court with such a legend,” she said before the match.“Especially considering how well she is still playing. She almost just won Wimbledon, she’s amazing. It’ll be such an honor. And I heard we’ll get a good crowd tonight so I’m super excited.”

Reflecting on her career, Williams glowed when speaking of her doubles matches with Serena, referring to them as a “perfect storm.” As up-and-comers flood the tennis scene, the veteran said she’s not ready to pass the torch just yet.

“We do get older,” she said. “Things haven’t changed so much for me yet. Just, you know, human spirit, human body can be very competitive. That’s kind of what I’m experiencing now. I love this game.

“I know this game. I know how to prepare, the ins and outs. So I just continue down that road. I still try to improve every day.”

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