World No 79 sends Venus Williams crashing to earth

Five-time Wimbledon winner a pale shadow of her former self as Russian claims big scalp

Wimbledon

It was the old Court Two that used to be called the "graveyard of champions", but it was on the new Court Two that Venus Williams's last hopes of adding to her tally of five Wimbledon titles were surely laid to rest here yesterday. The 32-year-old American, who appeared a listless and empty shell of the player she once was, was beaten 6-1, 6-3 by Russia's Elena Vesnina, the world No 79 and the sort of opponent Williams would have eaten for breakfast in her heyday.

This will not be the last the All England Club will see of Williams, who will play in the doubles with her sister Serena and will be back for next month's Olympics, but whether she returns next summer is another matter. The former world No 1 has been struggling with her health ever since she was diagnosed with an incurable auto-immune disease, Sjögren's syndrome, last summer. The sheer fact that she has come back, after six months away from the court, and secured her place in the Olympics is a wonder in itself.

Williams's performance in her post-match press conference had all the fight and spirit that her on-court performance had lacked. "I'm tough, let me tell you, tough as nails," she said, insisting that she had every intention of returning next year.

"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. But I can't be discouraged by that, so 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 friggin' tournaments back. That's just not me."

It was at last year's US Open that Williams revealed she had the disease which causes fatigue and swollen joints. She did not play again until March as she experimented with her medication and changed to a vegan diet based largely on raw food. Williams calls herself a "cheagan" because she does sometimes give in to temptation.

Williams returned earlier than she would have in other circumstances because she had to earn enough ranking points to qualify for the Olympics. Her goal was finally achieved at the French Open. "That's all I've fought for this whole year, so I hope that I can play well there," she said.

Asked if she felt she had paid for her efforts in securing selection for the Olympics, Williams said: "I'm really proud of my efforts to get my ranking up for the Olympics. That's one of the toughest things I've ever done in my life. So now I don't really feel that much pressure, to be honest. I want to win, but after going through that, that was hard. I definitely came back early. Do I think I'm paying for it? I can't say that because I don't really know."

The American did not want to talk about her illness – "It is what it is," she said with a shrug – but hers was not the performance of a player who has won five of her seven Grand Slam titles here and had not lost in the first round since her debut as a 17-year-old in 1997.

Williams put only 38 per cent of her first serves in court, opened with two double faults and was soon 5-0 down as the big-hitting Vesnina kept her on the run. Williams rarely got herself in a position to come to the net, where she has been so commanding in the past, and when she did venture forward she did so without her usual authority.

In the second set Williams held on until Vesnina broke in the sixth game. A sympathetic crowd rallied round the former champion – "Come on, Venus, we love you!" one spectator cried out – but Vesnina secured victory after just 75 minutes.

"I've lost before, so I know how to deal with it," Williams said. "There's been a lot of people in this world that fought back from the brink. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself because of everything that's going on. I have to be positive. I love this sport. I feel like I can play well and I'm not going to give up on that.

"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."

Williams said that simply returning to play the game was "definitely a big victory" and added: "A lot of people wouldn't have the opportunity even to come back, so I'm grateful for this opportunity. With each day that passes, that means I have another chance. If the sun comes up, I have a chance."

Over on Centre Court, Maria Sharapova, the French Open champion, began her campaign with a convincing 6-2, 6-3 victory over Australia's Anastasia Rodionova. The Russian said that regaining the world No 1 ranking and completing her set of Grand Slam titles would not affect her desire for success.

"I still believe that I can achieve a lot more," Sharapova said. "That's what drives me and gets me up in the morning still. No matter how much success I've had, no matter how many downfalls, I still believe I can be better."

Agnieszka Radwanska, the Polish world No 3, beat Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova 6-3, 6-3 to earn a second-round meeting with Vesnina. Sam Stosur and Li Na, who both won Grand Slam titles last year but have usually under-performed at Wimbledon, each dropped only four games in beating Carla Suarez Navarro and Ksenia Pervak respectively.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam