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 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.
She hadn’t lost in the first round at any Grand Slam tournament in 6½ years. Still, Williams said she’ll be at the London Olympics next month and is “planning” to be back at Wimbledon next year.
“I am a great player,” she said. “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.”
Her loss was part of an odd Day 1, even if the tournament favorites won easily: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova. Among those sent home were sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, the 2010 runner-up; 11th-seeded John Isner; No. 16 Flavia Pennetta; and No. 18 Jelena Jankovic, who was easily beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Kim Clijsters, a four-time major champion who has been beset by injuries.
Other seeded losers: No. 23 Andreas Seppi, No. 24 Marcel Granollers and No. 27 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who was upset by 100th-ranked American Jamie Hampton 6-4, 7-6 (1).
The biggest surprise might 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 in the first round against 73rd-ranked Alejandro Falla of Colombia.