Their exit from the tournament, without a set between them yesterday, at least demonstrated that the women's game is not quite the turkey shoot it might have seemed, had one of them gone on to a 10th title in 12 years. But it was always a bit ambitious to expect Serena and Venus Williams to perceive that bigger picture. Asked to do so, Serena was withering. "Yeah, I'm super-happy I lost," she said. "Go, women's tennis."
The two sisters had won all 20 of their previous matches in the fourth round here. Now they had lost two in the same afternoon. It is not yet the end of an era, but it certainly felt as though two fissures had appeared in some monolithic vastness. Venus, after all, is 31; and Serena 29. Just as she had in the quarter-finals last year, Venus lost tamely 6-2, 6-3 to Tsvetana Pironkova; while Serena was beaten 6-3, 7-6 in an engrossing encounter with Marion Bartoli.
The fact is that either sister, to win this time, would have needed to win more matches in a fortnight than they had completed between them since January. Both had resurfaced at Eastbourne, Venus having disappeared since the Australian Open, and Serena after treading on glass in a Munich restaurant 49 weeks previously. Serena had wept with relief when surviving the first round, but there were no tears this time. "I'm more devastated than ever," she protested. "I'm just a much better actress now."
It would be wrong, however, not to acknowledge Bartoli (below) as a legitimate challenger. Four years ago she stunned Justine Henin, then the world No 1, before losing to Venus in the final. She has just made the last four at Roland Garros, and managed to overcome illness in the previous round.
Serena introduced the menace of a panther to her slow, easy movement between points. In a nutshell, the Bartoli game-plan appeared to be run hard – and hit harder. It is not as if she has an especially formidable build. Instead, it all came from within. In timing and mobility, Serena had looked vulnerable throughout.
As for Venus, her game was strewn with errors. It was all over in 75 minutes. She wore a bereaved air afterwards. "Definitely not our best day," she said. "I think, you know, we both envisioned this day going a little bit different. When you haven't played as many matches, you have to focus very hard on every point. I think I did a good job on that in the first three matches. But today I really kind of let it go."Reuse content