Now 31, and figuring out from day to day how to handle an illness that saps her strength, Williams was on the wrong end of a lopsided 60-minute defeat in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday.
Looking glum and lacking the verve that carried her to seven Grand Slam titles, Williams barely put up any resistance and lost 6-2, 6-3 to No. 3-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, at Roland Garros. Coming a day after her younger sister Serena was stunned in the first round by 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano, of France, the early exit marked the first time in 43 major tournaments with both in the field that neither Williams got to the third round.
“I felt like I played,” Williams said after making a hard-to-fathom 33 unforced errors, 27 more than Radwanska. “That pretty much sums it up.”
This one was not exactly an out-of-nowhere upset, considering that Williams is ranked 53rd now, never has been as good on clay as on other surfaces, lost to Radwanska 6-4, 6-1 two months ago, and is learning how to be a professional athlete with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.
Still, the meek way Williams departed was striking.
Williams skipped the Australian Open in January, before returning to the tour in March in a bid to earn a berth on the U.S Olympic team. Spots are awarded based on rankings – the top 56 get in automatically, with a maximum of four per country, so Williams should be OK.
“This tournament, for me, was all about getting to the Olympics, as I have said a couple million times,” she said. “If that happens for me, and I think the chances are good, then I come out a victor. So that’s why I was here.”
On an easy day for the top-seeded players, No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka breezed into the third round with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Dinah Pfizenmaier, of Germany, 6-1, 6-1, while the No. 1 man, Novak Djokovic, extended his Grand Slam winning streak to 23 matches by beating Blaz Kavcic, of Slovenia, 6-0, 6-4, 6-4.
For years, Roger Federer managed to make things look easy at the top. Now No. 3, he went through a bit of a glitch and dropped a set before earning his record-breaking 234th Grand Slam match victory, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3 against 92nd-ranked Adrian Ungur, of Romania.