LONDON - As she left Court 2 at the All England Club after a victory, Venus Williams found her hitting partner and handed him her racket bag. Then, while holding a tiny red purse in her right hand, she reached out for a celebratory fist bump.
Hard to believe that Williams, a five-time champion at Wimbledon, had not won a singles match at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since 2011.
The 30th-seeded American grabbed the final five games to power through the third set and beat 56th-ranked Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 Monday.
"Of course, obviously, it feels good to win," Williams said. "I mean, it feels good to play well against an opponent who is playing well and advance to the next round. That always helps."
Now 34, and slowed by an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Williams lost in the first or second round at eight of the past nine Grand Slam tournaments.
At Wimbledon, in particular, everything used to come so easily for her: She earned the singles trophy in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008.
"Everybody's seen how she can play on grass," said Williams' hitting partner, David Witt. "Every time on the court, you're not going to play your best, but the key is that she pulled through it today. Here at Wimbledon, just being here, I think she feels comfortable, and it's her time to shine."
After a fourth-round exit at Wimbledon in 2011, Williams lost her opening match - which happened to come on Court 2 - in 2012. She then missed the tournament for the first time as a professional in 2013, citing a back injury.
"For me, it was best not to come because I couldn't really serve. You can't really play tennis if you can't really serve," she said, thinking back to a year ago. "It was in my best interest not to come here. It was pretty clear that I needed to stay home."
But on Monday, she smacked serves at up to 113 mph - not as fast as she would clock at the height of her powers, but effective enough for 11 aces. That was part of an overall 41-21 edge in winners against Torro-Flor.
Next up for Williams is 41st-ranked Kurumi Nara of Japan, who owns a total of two career Wimbledon match wins. Williams has 72, two behind Steffi Graf for third-most in the Open era.
All of that success can help now.
"It is muscle memory. If she can get past the first few rounds, that's when she'll start feeling comfortable. Second round, you expect to play better," Witt said. "And third round, that's when she can start to be dangerous."
During an on-court interview Monday, Williams confirmed she will play doubles at Wimbledon with younger sister Serena, who also has five singles titles at the All England Club. They've teamed to win five doubles championships at Wimbledon, too.
"I'd love to add to the totals," Venus said. "You've got to stay hungry."