NEW YORK (AP) - Venus Williams started with a soft forehand, shifted to a gentle backhand and even tried to blow away a most pesky opponent. She kept moving from sideline to sideline, yet still couldn't shake free at the U.S. Open.
Not until three attendants came onto the court to help did Williams escape what was bugging her Monday - a bee that wanted to land on her racket.
''The bee was a challenge,'' the two-time Queen Bee of Flushing Meadows said after beating Kimiko Date-Krumm 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round.
The prematch buzz was all about the ages of the players. Williams is 34, Date-Krumm is 43 and their combined 77 years was believed to be the oldest for opponents in a women's Grand Slam pairing, the WTA said.
''According to Kimiko, I've got another decade,'' Williams said.
''Definitely, I was younger today,'' she said. ''But when you step onto the court, no one is thinking about age. It's just a number.''
Earlier in the match, a bee interrupted Date-Krumm's serve. She refused to kill it, and instead parried the insect.
Then with the 19th-seeded Williams ahead 3-0 in the final set, a bee flew close to Williams as she prepared to serve.
After her Japanese opponent ''showed such class'' in handling the flying nuisance, ''I would've been remiss to swat it,'' Williams said.
''I came up with a strategy to follow her example,'' she said.
Williams spent more than a minute trying to get away, waving her hand and blowing at the bee. While some fans shouted ''Smash it!'', Williams refused to take a full, serious swing.
Eventually, two ball persons and a helper came out with towels and corralled the bee and carried it off as the crowd cheered.
''He's on his way,'' Williams said.
Williams last won the U.S. Open in 2001 and has been slowed by health problems in recent years. But she beat younger sister Serena this month in reaching the final at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and, asked Monday whether she felt old on the court, answered, ''not yet.''
Date-Krumm turns 44 next month, and fell to 0-4 against Williams in a match that lasted over 2 hours.
Down 5-0 in the third set, Date-Krumm won three straight games. At deuce in the final game, she missed an easy shot and crouched at the net for a full 10 seconds, thinking about the chance that got away.
Williams won the match on the next point, and Date-Krumm met her with a smile when it was over.
''Every day, sometimes I'm thinking. If I have a big injury someday ... it may be difficult to come back,'' she said. ''Still I have passion. ... So I'm still here.''
''My coach always says, every year at the end of the year, always you say, `Ah, maybe I stop, maybe I don't continue anymore.' But it's years, it's several years,'' she said, laughing.