NEW YORK — Venus Williams in 2019 Grand Slams: three match wins, four match losses. She hasn’t reached the second week of a major since her resurgent 2017, and, at age 39, has fallen outside the top 50 for the first year since 2013.
Williams lost to fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the U.S. Open second round on Wednesday, two days after dropping just one game in round one. It’s her earliest exit from the tournament since 2013.
Also Wednesday, Roger Federer dropped the opening set of his first two matches at a Slam for the first time. He rallied again, beating Bosnian Damir Džumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round. Later, Novak Djokovic swept into round three, while Serena Williams rallied past 17-year-old American Caty McNally 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.
Play on courts without roofs — all but Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums — was cancelled due to rain.
Venus Williams, a seven-time major singles champion, played strong at times this season, reaching the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in March and in Cincinnati two weeks ago. She beat top-10 players Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.
She gritted her teeth and challenged Svitolina in the second set, after coffee was delivered to her chair following the opening frame. That included saving five match points in her final service game that lasted 17 minutes.
“I did a lot of things right today,” said Williams, who was up 3-0 in the second set. “A lot of great things to build on.”
A slide wasn’t surprising after that incredible 2017, when she made two Grand Slam finals and re-entered the top five for the first time since she was diagnosed with energy-sapping Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011.
This year, Williams was stopped in the Australian Open third round by No. 1 Simona Halep. Swept by Svitolina in a tough French Open first round draw (so it goes when you’re not ranked high enough for a seed). Booted by 15-year-old Coco Gauff on the opening day of Wimbledon, where she won five titles between 2000 and 2008.
Williams customarily bats away questions about her future, but has said she will play in 2020.
“As Billie Jean King says, I love this game,” Williams said in a rare public moment of exclamation on court after Monday’s opening rout. “I love, love, love my job. I get to work outside. My whole job is to stay fit and get a six-pack. You don’t get better than that. I love what I do. I’ll be doing it as long as I can, and when I can’t, I’ll be watching with y’all.”
A potential sixth Olympics is a goal. It would take an incredible turnaround to qualify for the four-woman U.S. team in singles. More on the intense U.S. battle for Olympic spots here.
“It’s something that is the peak of your life, of your career,” Williams said of the Olympics in 2016.
Williams, the most decorated Olympic tennis player with five medals, could be chosen via discretionary pick for Olympic doubles. She has the credentials: Olympic golds with her sister in 2000, 2008 and 2012 and a mixed doubles silver in 2016.
If she goes to Tokyo, Williams will do it at age 40, older than any previous, modern-era Olympic tennis medalist.
“I’m trying to stick around for that,” she reportedly said in 2017 of the Games.
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