Venus Williams suffers shock first round defeat at Wimbledon


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The Independent Online

Venus Williams gave a defiant performance on the opening day of Wimbledon but unfortunately for the American it came in the press conference room rather than on court.

Five-time Wimbledon champion Williams, who heads sister Serena by one title on that score, lost in the opening round of her favourite grand slam for the first time since 1997, her debut year at the Championships.

The 32-year-old was bundled out in straight sets by Russian Elena Vesnina, who claimed a fine 6-1 6-3 success on Court Two.

Williams' only previous experience of a first-round singles loss at Wimbledon came as a 17-year-old 15 years ago when she was defeated by Polish player Magdalena Grzybowska.

Today Vesnina could hardly believe her achievement, with the 25-year-old dancing a jig of joy and all smiles after securing a second-round clash with number three seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

And then attention turned to whether it would be the last time Williams, who has had major health problems over the last year, plays a Wimbledon campaign.

She was coy at first, responding to initial questioning about whether she would be seen again on the grass courts of SW19, by saying: "Yeah, at the Olympics you'll see me here."

A third Olympic gold in the doubles with Serena later this summer would offer a sweet occasion on which to retire, but Venus is adamant she will be back playing at Wimbledon next year.

"I'm planning on it," she said.

Then came an explosive moment, a seemingly reasonable question enquiring what would drive her on after the Olympics ending in the reporter suggesting Williams is "struggling".

"Am I struggling?" Williams replied.

"Am I? I don't know. Tell me what the struggle is.

"I just want you to be clear. If you say I'm struggling, tell me how I should do better.

"I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player. Unfortunately, I had to deal with circumstances that people don't normally have to deal with in this sport."

Williams is down at 58th in the world rankings, with Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease, having kept her sidelined between last summer's US Open and the WTA tournament at Miami in March.

There has been plenty of speculation she could soon retire, but she said today: "I'm up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity.

"There's no way I'm just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freaking tournaments back.

"That's just not me.

"I just try to stay positive and focused on the tennis. Not let anything get to me, like, you know, crazy questions.

"But I'm tough, let me tell you, tough as nails."

Williams' energy has been affected by her medical condition, so to be back playing grand slam tennis is a triumph she wants to celebrate.

"It's definitely a big victory to be back," she said. "With each day that passes, that means I have another chance. If the sun comes up, I have a chance.

"I don't have time to be negative. I don't know if you've had any negative experience, but it's not fun. I like to use the same time to be positive because it feels a whole lot better."

Vesnina had plenty to be positive about.

The world number 79 said: "I think that's the biggest win in my career. To beat Venus in Wimbledon is just something amazing.

"I think she's one of the greatest athletes, first of all, in the whole sport. And she's a great champion."

And as for whether Williams might be able to return to the height of her powers, Vesnina said: "She's not in the top 10, but you can still feel she will get few more matches and she can be back again.

"Williams sisters, they have this power. They have this ability to come back from nowhere. They know how to do that. They know how to play grand slams. They know how to win grand slams."