Venus, Isner oustedRacket bag slung over her shoulder, resignation written across her face, Venus Williams weaved through fans milling about on the sidewalks that players must traverse to get from Court 2 to the Wimbledon locker rooms.
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Racket bag slung over her shoulder, resignation written across her face, Venus Williams weaved through fans milling about on the sidewalks that players must traverse to get from Court 2 to the Wimbledon locker rooms.
The 32-year-old Williams had just absorbed a lopsided first-round loss at the Grand Slam tournament she once ruled, a poor performance that raised questions about how much longer she will keep playing tennis while dealing with an energy-sapping illness.
Looking lethargic, and rarely showing off the power-based game that carried her to five Wimbledon titles and seven majors overall, Williams departed meekly Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 defeat against 79th-ranked Elena Vesnina of Russia.
“I feel like I’m a great player,” Williams said, sounding a tad like someone trying to convince herself.
Later, as part of a slightly testy and awkward exchange with reporters, Williams said: “I’m tough, let me tell you. Tough as nails.”
Her loss, in her first match since a second-round ouster at the French Open, was part of an odd Day 1, even if the true tournament favorites in action won easily: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova. Among those sent home were sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, the 2010 runner-up at Wimbledon; 11th-seeded John Isner; No. 16 Flavia Pennetta; and No. 18 Jelena Jankovic, who was rather easily beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Kim Clijsters, a four-time major champion who has been beset by injuries in her last season on tour and, like Williams, is unseeded.
The biggest surprise might very well have been the way Isner — the highest-ranked American man — blew a match point, wasted a two-sets-to-one lead, dropped a tiebreaker on grass, and bid a 6-4, 6-7 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 farewell to Wimbledon in the first round against 73rd-ranked Alejandro Falla of Colombia.
“I didn’t put my opponent away. I had my chances, and I didn’t do it. It’s all on me,” said the 6-foot-9 Isner, “I get out there sometimes, and lately it’s happening quite a lot, and I get out there in the match and I’m just so clouded. I just can’t seem to figure things out. I’m my own worst enemy out there. It’s all mental for me, and it’s pretty poor on my part.”
Williams has played only 18 matches in 2012, going 12-6, and looked rather ordinary against Vesnina, who is more accomplished in doubles and never made it past the fourth round at a major tournament in singles.
“Of course I was scared. Not scared, but I was, like, aware of her serve. But I think she didn’t serve that well today,” said Vesnina, who recalled watching on TV when Williams beat Lindsay Davenport in the 2005 Wimbledon final.
“Maybe for her, it was not one of her best days,” Vesnina said about Monday. “But for me, it was one of the best days.”
Williams fell behind 5-0, and needed 30 minutes to win a single game. She got broken the first four times she served. She rolled her eyes or shook her head after missed shots. Her father pulled out his camera late in the second set and snapped some photos from the stands, maybe wondering right along with some spectators whether this might be Williams’ last singles match at Wimbledon.
At her news conference, Williams was asked what will drive her, given the way she’s struggling.
“Am I struggling?” Williams replied. “Am I?”
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