PARIS -- Whistles and whispers circulated through the stands at Court Suzanne Lenglen on Sunday, a reaction brought about not by Venus Williams' play at the French Open, but rather by her outfit.
With a lacy, black overlay giving it the illusion of being see-through, and bright red trim on the bodice, Williams' corset-like get-up made her look as if she were ready to perform in a 19th century Parisian cancan chorus line. Her game, a mix of power and niftier-than-usual footwork on this day, was very 21st century, and befitting a star of the show.
The red clay of Roland Garros never has been Williams' best stage -- her seven Grand Slam titles all came at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. At this year's French Open, she is assured of at least one more performance, thanks to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over former top-10 player Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the first round.
Williams explained that her look was "about illusion," which, she noted, is "a lot of my motif this year" when it comes to clothes design. She also said she might not wear that particular dress again on court. Then again, perhaps she will. She's not sure. Either way, Williams comes to a tournament with eight to 10 outfits, just in case the victories keep coming.
And she plans a lengthy stay in Paris this time around, perhaps capped by a title.
"I always -- goes without saying -- believe I can win," said Williams, whose biggest hitches Sunday were eight double-faults.
Williams lost in the third round at each of the past three French Opens and only once has been beyond the quarterfinals in 13 previous trips: She lost to younger sister Serena in the 2002 final. Still, Venus' hitting partner, David Witt, said after Sunday's victory: "If she goes out there and is smart and plays smart tennis, I think she can win the tournament."
There are others who will have some say in that, of course, including defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also won in straight sets Sunday, and the top-ranked Serena, whose first-round match is Monday. Venus is back at No. 2 in the rankings for the first time since May 2003, and was not shy about saying she wants to bump her sister off the top spot.
"It feels good to be moving up the ranks. Obviously, when you get to 2, of course, the next dream is 1," Venus said. Her 27-4 record this year is the best on the women's tour.
As for chasing Serena?
"When we're on the court, and when we're competing against each other, it's competition," Venus said. "Both of us feel that, you know: May the better player be the best."
Generally, the better players were, well, better than their opponents on Day 1 of the year's second Grand Slam tournament, when the sky was a cloudless blue and the temperature touched 80 degrees, making ice cream the snack of choice around the grounds.
Kuznetsova sputtered at the start against 2009 quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea, losing the opening six points and falling behind 3-0, before reeling off nine games in a row to win 6-3, 6-1.
Seeded sixth, Kuznetsova arrived at Roland Garros only 1-3 on clay this year, and she drew a dangerous opening opponent in Cirstea. The match began shortly after 11 a.m., and even in a nearly empty stadium, Kuznetsova found herself a bit rattled.
"Definitely I was a little bit nervous," she said. "It was rough start for me."
The Russian needed 12 minutes to win a game, but she was in control after that. Three times she rallied to take a game after losing the first three points.
"She was down, so she had to change a little bit," Cirstea said. "She went more for her shots, and they went in."
Joining Kuznetsova in the women's second round were No. 15 Aravane Rezai, No. 19 Nadia Petrova, No. 26 Dominika Cibulkova and No. 30 Maria Kirilenko.
Two seeded women left: No. 10 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a quarterfinalist a year ago, lost to Gisela Dulko of Argentina 6-1, 6-2, and No. 20 Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain lost to Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan 6-2, 6-4.
Venus Williams' only real problems came at the very end against Schnyder, who fell to 0-11 against the American but certainly is no slouch, particularly on clay. The 31-year-old lefty from Switzerland has been a Grand Slam semifinalist, has been ranked No. 7, and leads active women in career clay-court victories.
In the arduous final game she fell behind 15-40, then hit her only two aces. On her first match point, she double-faulted for the eighth time. She finally converted her fourth match point with a forehand winner and raised a triumphant fist.
"It's just too tough to really play good, and then on top of that, to beat her," Schnyder said. "She has a great answer to my lefty serve, she has the backhand down the line, which hurts me a lot, and she's a great mover."
That last part hasn't always been the case on clay, but the 29-year-old Williams had neither of her sometimes-bothersome knees wrapped Sunday. She covered the court quite well, both side-to-side and moving forward, which helped her win 12 of 14 points at the net.
"I've just been playing a little bit more consistent," she said. "You've just got to win the point and execute. I've been doing that, I think, pretty good."
It's part of a resurgence on the slow surface this season for Williams: She is 13-2 on clay.
"Look at her results," Schnyder said. "She's coming into the tournament playing good clay-court matches, winning clay-court matches."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.