Venus falls in opener at Wimbledon

Posted: June 26, 2012

WIMBLEDON, England - 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.

She trudged by as her hitting partner, David Witt, was saying: "It's tough to watch sometimes. I think everybody sees it. I don't know what else to say."

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. Only once before - as a teenager making her Wimbledon debut in 1997 - had Williams exited so early at the All England Club.

She hadn't lost in the first round at any Grand Slam tournament in 6 1/2 years. Still, Williams said she'll be at the London Olympics next month and is "planning" to be back at Wimbledon next year.

"I feel like I'm a great player," Williams said, sounding a tad like someone trying to convince herself.

She repeated that affirmation as she continued: "I am a great player. Unfortunately, I had to deal with circumstances that people don't normally have to deal with in this sport. But I can't be discouraged by that. ... There's no way I'm just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freakin' tournaments back."

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.

Other seeded losers: No. 23 Andreas Seppi, No. 24 Marcel Granollers and No. 27 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who was upset by 100th-ranked Jamie Hampton of the United States, 6-4, 7-6 (1).

Truth be told, 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 73d-ranked Alejandro Falla of Colombia.

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