Defiant Williams vows to return

Venus Williams gave a bold performance on the opening day of Wimbledon but unfortunately for the American it came in the press conference room rather than on court.

Five-time Wimbledon champion Williams, who heads sister Serena by one title, lost in the opening round of her favourite grand slam yesterday for the first time since 1997, her debut year at the Championships.

The 32-year-old was bundled out in straight sets by Russian Elena Vesnina, who claimed a fine 6-1 6-3 success on Court Two.

Attention then quickly turned to whether it would be the last time Williams, who has had major health problems over the last year, will ever play a Wimbledon campaign again.

But Venus is adamant she will be back playing next year. “I’m planning on it,” she said.

Then came an explosive moment, a question enquiring what would drive her on after the Olympics ending in the reporter suggesting Williams is “struggling”.

“Am I struggling?” Williams replied. “Am I? I don’t know. Tell me what the struggle is. I just want you to be clear. If you say I’m struggling, tell me how I should do better. I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player. Unfortunately, I had to deal with circumstances that people don’t normally have to deal with in this sport.”

Williams is down at 58th in the world rankings, with Sjogren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disease, having kept her sidelined between last summer’s US Open and the WTA tournament at Miami in March.

Wimbledon favourite Maria Sharapova stepped up her bid for back-to-back grand slam victories against Anastasia Rodionova on Centre Court, racing into a five-game lead with just three points conceded before getting involved in a mid-match scrap as the Australian found her rhythm, before eventually coming through 6-2 6-3.

Kim Clijsters made a fine start to her last Wimbledon as she dumped out 18th seed Jelena Jankovic on Court One.

In the men’s tournament, Novak Djokovic began the defence of his Wimbledon crown with a straightforward victory over former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero.

As last year’s winner, the Serb had the honour of opening proceedings, and, a bit of early rustiness aside, he was rarely troubled and won 6-3 6-3 6-1.

Djokovic said of his opponent: “He’s a former number one of the world. That says enough about his qualities. The first two sets were exciting and close. I was very satisfied with my performance.”

Third seed Roger Federer, going for his seventh Wimbledon title, cruised against Spain’s Albert Ramos, racing to a 6-1 6-1 6-1 victory.

Ramos was playing only his second match on grass in his career, the first having been a defeat by Britain’s Josh Goodall in qualifying here two years ago, but he could at least savour a big cheer when he prevented Federer securing a love set in the third.

All eyes were on Argentina’s David Nalbandian in his first-round match against eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic after his disqualification from the final at Queen’s Club eight days ago for kicking an advertising hoarding into a line judge.

The 2002 finalist was on his best behaviour on Court One but could not engineer an upset, Serbian Tipsarevic winning 6-4 7-6 (7/4) 6-2 to set up a second-round clash with American Ryan Sweeting.

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