The era of the Williams sisters' dominance at Wimbledon is over, perhaps for good, but the Williams conundrum rumbles on. With Venus, the defending champion, crashing out to Serbia's Jelena Jankovic on Saturday in the third round, there will be no Williams representative in the women's final here for the first time since 1999.
Venus has not left the building entirely: she is scheduled to play today in the mixed doubles with Bob Bryan. Evidently she feels fit and healthy enough to do so. She was here at the All England Club yesterday, looking relaxed despite her singles exit, and at ease enough to stand for 20 minutes in the shade of the press centre while talking happily on her mobile and simultaneously sending an e-mail.
Yet her continuation in the doubles raises questions over the severity of the wrist problem that she cited on Saturday as one reason for her defeat. If the problem is so bad - on the practice courts last week there was talk of tendon trouble - why risk competitive doubles? A desire not to break the commitment to Bryan? And if it's not that bad, why was she beaten by Jankovic? Lack of matches this year is one reason.
Saturday's loss was so unexpected that Venus's father, Richard, resorted to yelling from the stands, urging his daughter to "pick up your game" and shouting: "What's wrong with you Venus?" Venus said afterwards: "The job of your supporters is to support you. He does that well."
As for Serena, who is not even here, we are no closer to knowing when she might return to action, or how competitive she will be if she does.
The Williams enigma is underlined by their virtual annexation of the tournament in the past six years. After Lindsay Davenport beat Steffi Graf in 1999, Venus won in 2000 and 2001 (against Davenport and then Justine Henin), Serena won in 2002 and 2003, beating Venus in both finals, and made the 2004 final (losing to Maria Sharapova), before Venus restored the winning habit last year, against Davenport.
For one sister to fail even to attend, and for the other to be knocked out before the second week, is a mark of their decline. Only the superstitious will give much weight to the fact that Venus lost to Jankovic on Court Two, the so-called graveyard of champions, the same court where Serena made such an ignominious exit last year at the hands of the diminutive world No85, Jill Craybas. Venus said afterwards that her injury was an issue in her defeat. "I wasn't able to play my best," she said. "I was having problems with my left wrist. It made it very, very tough."
She was also unsettled by Jankovic serving before she was quite ready to receive. In the third set, with Venus 2-0 up, she asked the umpire to intervene. "When I was walking to the line, she would serve immediately, which made it difficult to get ready," Venus said. "I just think that maybe she plays at that pace."
Jankovic was asked to wait until Venus was ready to receive serve, but rather than handing Venus an advantage, it helped her opponent. This was doubly strange because Jankovic has been known to choke when way ahead, let alone when a break down in the decider.
Jankovic said her high tempo between points was not a deliberate ploy to unsettle Venus. "That's just the way I play," she explained. "I'm so excited that I won this match. I was so nervous at the end that the racket felt like it weighed 30 pounds."
Jankovic now faces the former French Open champion, Anastasia Myskina. Another Roland Garros winner, Justine Henin-Hardenne, will open proceedings on Centre Court today against Daniela Hantuchova. Shenay Perry, 21, is the only American left in the last 16, or indeed in either singles draw after the United States' worst showing here for 84 years. She now plays Russia's Elena Dementieva. Two minnows looking for upsets will be Severine Bremond, a French qualifier, and Agnieszka Radwanska, a 17-year-old Polish wild card, who face Ai Sugiyama and Kim Clijsters respectively.Reuse content