Venus Williams joined sister Serena in making an early exit from the French Open as she crashed out to third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.
Roland Garros was still abuzz today with Virginie Razzano’s stunning victory over the title favourite, handing Serena her first ever defeat in the opening round of a grand slam.
Venus’ 6-2 6-3 loss was certainly not in the same category, indeed it would have been a shock had she won given her health problems, lack of match action and the fact the match was being played on clay.
Even at Venus’ best, Radwanska would have been a big obstacle. The 23-year-old has enjoyed a terrific 2012 so far, winning titles in Dubai, Miami and Brussels, and is rightly considered a real contender here.
Venus produced far too many errors to trouble a player of Radwanska’s consistency and speed around the court, and, although she found some form towards the end of the match, her revival was short-lived.
Venus was playing her first grand slam since pulling out of the US Open last summer following a diagnosis of the auto-immune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome.
She made no attempt to hide the fact she is still struggling physically, but felt she had achieved her objectives here, with her first-round victory almost certainly guaranteeing her qualification for the Olympics in London.
Reflecting on the match, the 31-year-old American said: “I felt like I played. That pretty much sums it up. This tournament for me was all about getting to the Olympics. If that happens for me, I think the chances are good, then I come out a victor.
“She played really well. It’s important to put the ball in the court. She chased down a lot of shots. That’s what you have to do on this surface. Unfortunately I wasn’t at my best today.”
Williams has three Olympic gold medals, one in singles and two in doubles, and is set to defend the women’s doubles title she won four years ago with Serena in Beijing.
She said: “The ultimate dream for me would be to be able to play both. I have to see and see what I’m selected for. Maybe (women’s) doubles and mixed (doubles) is better for me. Any medal in any event, even if it was the javelin, that’s a medal.”
The American remains upbeat despite her health problems, saying: “I’m still playing professional sport, so I have to be very positive.
“And I’m going to have ups and downs. I haven’t gotten to the ’Why me?’ stage yet. I hope I never get there. I’m not allowed to feel sorry for myself.”
The sisters share a house in Florida, and Venus revealed Serena has joined her in changing her diet to help make things easier.
Reflecting on Serena’s loss yesterday, Venus said: “It’s hard for me because all my hopes are on her for this tournament. I wanted her to win. I wasn’t sure that I could.
“She’s been playing so well on the clay. But there’s those days someone comes out and they have nothing to lose. It’s bad luck. She’s a great player.”
Serena’s exit ensured the near loss of top seed Victoria Azarenka on Monday was rather forgotten, and there were no such alarms for the 22-year-old today.
Azarenka, who had been a set and 4-0 down to Alberta Brianti in their first-round match before digging her way out, trounced German qualifier Dinah Pfizenmaier 6-1 6-1 and next meets Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak.
There was another significant upset in the women’s draw, although not quite on the Serena scale, with eighth seed and home favourite Marion Bartoli crashing out.
The Frenchwoman, who reached the semi-finals last year, looked to have recovered after going a set and a break down to Petra Martic, but it was the Croatian who edged the decider to triumph 6-2 3-6 6-3 and make the third round at a grand slam for the first time.
Bartoli has struggled with illness recently, and she said: “I really tried my hardest to be ready – physically, mentally, tennis-wise – to compete at my best. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
Sixth seed and 2010 finalist Sam Stosur beat American youngster Irina Falconi 6-1 6-4 and next faces 27th seed Nadia Petrova in a repeat of their epic third-round clash at the US Open last year that lasted three hours and 16 minutes.
Two former champions were winners today – Ana Ivanovic breezing past Shahar Peer 6-2 6-2 while Svetlana Kuznetsova had a tougher time against Chan Yung-jan before coming through 6-4 7-6 (7/4).
Ten American women reached the second round but 19-year-old Sloane Stephens is so far the only one to make the third, crushing countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1 6-1.
Seeds Dominika Cibulkova, Sara Errani, Flavia Pennetta and Anabel Medina Garrigues also had comfortable wins today but Mathilde Johansson delighted the French crowd by ousting Petra Cetkovska while Lucie Safarova lost to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.