Venus Williams went down in a hail of errors to fellow American Lisa Raymond in the third-round at the Australian Open yesterday, putting her comeback from injury on hold.
It was a shock end to her first tournament after nearly six months off with an abdominal injury, particularly after two straight-set victories. Getting the third seeding despite her No. 11 ranking reflected general sentiment that she was one of the favorites if she was healthy.
"I'm pretty much in shock," Williams said. "I definitely had some high hopes to win here."
But the 30-year-old Raymond, better known for her doubles skills, played one of the best matches of her career.
Raymond said she couldn't have played much better and gave partial credit to a cellphone text message from doubles partner Martina Navratilova before the match that said "Just be brave."
She next meets Russian-born French teenager Tatiana Golovin, a wild-card entry who will celebrate her 16th birthday on Sunday after beating Lina Krasnoroutskaya who was seeded 23rd.
Also advancing to the fourth round was second-seeded Kim Clijsters, who had been in doubt for the tournament after spraining her ankle two weeks earlier. She beat Dinara Safina of Russia 6-2, 6-1 and has lost only eight games in three matches.
On the men's side, second-seeded Roger Federer also hasn't lost a set. After having his serve broken early, he ran off 14 games in a row in a 6-3, 6-0, 6-1 victory over Australian wild-card entry Todd Reid, who had thrown up at courtside and suffered leg cramps in a second-round five-setter.
It was the first time Williams hasn't reached the quarterfinals in six trips to the Australian Open, and the first time since a first-round loss at the French Open in 2001 that she didn't make at least the fourth round of a Grand Slam. She lost last year's final here to her sister, Serena.
Williams had trouble keeping the ball in play from the start. She found herself down 3-0 after getting broken in her first two service games with four double faults and failing to get a ball back in Raymond's first service game.
The crowd sat in stunned silence as Williams pounded serve after serve into the net. Raymond didn't need to do much, with only one winner in the first three games.
After looking a little rusty in a second-round victory, Williams said she felt she could cut her unforced errors if she needed. But her reaction to mistakes this time was to hit harder, her grunts getting louder as she tried to blast winners.
It worked for a bit as she got one break back and finally held serve to pull within 3-2.
But Raymond held and broke again in a game then went to deuce four times. Williams broke back again the next game and then held, fending off one break point, to make it 5-4, but Raymond finished it off on her fifth set point when Williams banged a service return wide.
The service breaks continued to pile up in the second set as Raymond pulled ahead 3-1 only to see Williams pull back even as she finally found her serve. She had 12 of her 14 aces in the set, three in one game, reaching up to 193kph. The last evened the tiebreaker at 4-4.
A backhand by Williams into the net and a serve return that sailed way long gave Raymond double match point at 6-4. Williams fended off one with a good backhand crosscourt pass, then hit a backhand wide on the next point for her 44th unforced error.