Tennis

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams hail ageless Venus Williams

Naomi Osaka said Venus Williams had an "aura" and Serena hailed her ageless sister as "such an inspiration" after the 40-year-old powered into the Australian Open second round yesterday.

Venus, who played in her first Australian Open in 1998, battled past fellow veteran Kirsten Flipkens 7-5, 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena in her 88th Grand Slam match to ensure she lived to fight another day.

World No. 3 Osaka, who also won comfortably, said the seven-time Grand Slam winner had long been a heroine and she was amazed at her longevity.

"Ironically, I actually interact with Venus more (than Serena)," she said, after sweeping past Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2.

"I see her smiling so much nowadays, so it's really nice to see. She just has this aura of loving the sport and this infectious energy. I hope that I can learn a lot from her."

Sister Serena, who crushed Germany's Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 in the first round at Melbourne Park as she aims for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, has spent the past few weeks with Venus as her hitting partner.

"She's such an inspiration because she never gets frustrated about her situation, health-wise. She's always looking on the bright side. Then she works so hard. Yeah, she's been great," said Serena, 39.

Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren's disease in 2011, a condition which leaves her weakened. She took up a vegan diet to combat the illness.

In the men's draw, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic blasted Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 in just 91 minutes to kick off his bid for a record ninth Australian Open title in emphatic fashion.

Third seed Dominic Thiem, who lost to Djokovic in last year's final, had to dig deep to beat veteran Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (7/2), 6-2, 6-3. - REUTERS

Tennis