NEW YORK -- 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.
Second-ranked Simona Halep merited the honor of kicking off the tournament on center court. The stage proved imposing at first, and Halep needed to rally from a set down to beat a young American making her Grand Slam debut.
The Romanian won 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-2 over 20-year-old Danielle Rose Collins. As a sophomore at Virginia, an unseeded Collins won the NCAA title to earn a wild card into the US Open.
The French Open runner-up, Halep reached a career-high ranking of No. 2 this month. She has never advanced past the fourth round at the US Open.
"My best moment of my life -- I have to enjoy this," she said in an on-court interview after the match. "But it's not easy. There's a lot of pressure on me. Everyone is telling me that I have chances to win."
For Collins, she expected to return 24 hours later to a far smaller venue: a college classroom.
"Summer was too much fun," she said.
Hobbled by injuries during the season, Collins rolled through the NCAA tournament to become the Cavaliers' first women's singles champion in May.
She had never before even played a main draw match at a tour-level event. She started right at the top by playing in Ashe.
"It was amazing," Collins said. "I mean, I could get used to that."
Ranked 47th at the end of 2012, Halep's rapid rise booked her as the opening act in the cavernous confines of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Her reaction when she found out: "Wow."
"It's not easy to see that you play first match of tournament on center court," she said. "But, you know, I have experience now. I didn't manage very well the emotions, but it's good that I finished well."
The fifth-seeded Sharapova, who missed the tournament last year because of an injured right shoulder, trailed 4-2 in the first set. She then took control in the matchup between 27-year-old Russians and didn't drop another game.
Sharapova has had some trouble with her serves since getting hurt. Four times in a span of four points midway through the first set, she tossed the ball in the air, only to catch it instead of hitting it -- a buzzing sound system, a plane flying overhead and a slight wind gust might have contributed.
Kirilenko had not played since Wimbledon. Once ranked in the top 10, she came into this match at No. 113 after a series of injuries.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.