Venus Williams / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD
Serena Williams may be missing from this year’s French Open, but big sister Venus is still going strong and marks her Roland Garros 20th anniversary on Sunday.
Three weeks shy of her 37th birthday, the American star, who made her debut in the French capital in 1997, kicks off her latest campaign against China’s Wang Qiang.
Williams, seeded 10, has played every year since 1997 with the exception of 2011 and despite her senior citizen status, she is still a contender at the Slams as her run to the Australian Open final in January proved.
Her staggering longevity is illustrated by the fact that her potential second round opponent is compatriot Amanda Anisimova who, at just 15, is the youngest main draw competitor since 2005.
When Venus was losing the 2002 Roland Garros final to Serena, Anisimova was just nine months old.
“I’m here as I still have a lot to give. That just wraps it up,” said Venus who has never got beyond the quarter-finals in Paris since her runners-up spot 15 years ago.
Anisimova, the Florida-based daughter of Russian parents, made the tournament courtesy of winning the US wild card play-off.
She faces Japan’s world number 94 Kurumi Nara on Sunday.
“This will be my first main draw match at a major, I’m very excited and I can’t wait to play already,” she said.
Elsewhere on what’s expected to be a sweltering opening day in Paris, world number one Angelique Kerber starts against experienced Russian player Ekaterina Makarova.
Kerber was defeated in the first round by unseeded Kiki Bertens 12 months ago and has yet to get past the quarter-finals.
The German left-hander has endured a miserable clay-court season, losing early in Stuttgart and crashing out in her Rome opener, while retiring from her last-16 clash in Madrid with a lower back injury.
“Everybody knows clay is not my favourite surface, but I try my best,” said Kerber. “Last year was not the best for me.”
Makarova, also left-handed, is a former top tenner who has made at least the quarter-finals of all the majors, except the French Open.
Action on Philippe Chatrier centre court starts with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova making her comeback after six months away from the sport spent recovering from potentially career-ending injuries sustained in fighting off a knife-wielding burglar in December.
Kvitova, a semi-finalist in 2012 and seeded 15 this year, faces America’s Julia Boserup, the world number 86 who is making her French Open debut.
The standout match in the men’s singles sees Austrian sixth seed Dominic Thiem, a semi-finalist in 2016, take on unpredictable Bernard Tomic of Australia.
Thiem is regarded as a potential champion should world number one Andy Murray, defending champion Novak Djokovic or nine-time champion Rafael Nadal slip up.