LONDON -- "Go, V!"
"Hang in there. Keep fighting."
As Venus Williams struggled with her strokes yesterday against a feisty opponent hoping to spring a significant surprise in her first Wimbledon match, a voice kept calling out from the third row -- coaching, cajoling, cheerleading.
The words of encouragement after nearly every point came from Williams's doubles partner, practice cohort, and younger sister, Serena -- and they worked. Williams lost the first set, was down a break in each of the others, and finally was 2 points from defeat before climbing all the way back to beat Russian teen Alla Kudryavtseva, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, and reach the second round at the All England Club.
"It's so important to have that support, because I wanted definitely to play better and I was disappointed that I wasn't playing well," said the elder Williams, who won Wimbledon in 2000, 2001, and 2005, and lost to her sister in the 2002 and 2003 finals.
"The fact that Serena was there, my mom was there, too -- they were like, 'You can do it.' "
She could, but barely. Still, it was one of few bright spots for the US contingent at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament: The men went 2-7 yesterday, the women 2-4.
Through two days of play, only three of 14 American men are left: No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 9 James Blake (who beat Igor Andreev of Russia, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4), and unseeded Amer Delic (who beat Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4).
At least that's an improvement from the last Grand Slam tournament, where US men went 0-9.
"We had everything go wrong at the French Open," Blake said. "I just hope that doesn't happen again for a long time."
Of 11 US women at Wimbledon, nine have played, and four reached the second round, led by the Williams sisters. Seventh-seeded Serena showed up at Venus's match with their mother late in the first set.
By then, her sister was in trouble, spraying groundstrokes all over Court 2, known as the "Graveyard of Champions," because so many Wimbledon winners have been upset there. The list includes both Williams sisters, Pete Sampras in his final Wimbledon appearance, Andre Agassi, and Jimmy Connors.
The place holds fewer than 3,000 spectators, including standing room, and the seats for players' guests are courtside. So while Williams was having trouble early -- "I didn't have any answers," she said -- her father's repeated instructions to "relax, Venus" hung in the air.
After one backhand sailed long, she looked over to the stands, put her palms up, and asked, "Why is it flying?"
Meanwhile, here's what Kudryavtseva was thinking when she was ahead, 6-2, 2-0, and up, love-30, on Williams's serve: "I'm here. I'm fighting with Venus Williams. Nice."
That's when Williams won five consecutive games. That helped even the match at a set apiece.
Then came another tough spot at 30-all while Williams trailed, 5-4 -- 2 points from the end. But Kudryavtseva put a backhand into the net, and Williams hit a 119-mile-per-hour service winner to make it 5-5.
Williams broke in the next game, then served out the match at love. Kudryavtseva left the court in tears.
Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, won her first-round match, as did defending champion Amelie Mauresmo and No. 3 Jelena Jankovic. Among the men, three-time French Open champion and 2006 Wimbledon runner-up Rafael Nadal won, as did 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt, two-time Grand Slam winner Marat Safin, and No. 4 Novak Djokovic.
Afterward, Richard Williams took a shot at the US Tennis Association, saying it's looking for future stars in the wrong places -- "in the white neighborhoods" and "not in the ghetto."