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PARIS – Grimacing after some poor shots, leaning over with hands on knees while catching her breath after others, Venus Williams left the French Open after the first round for the first time since 2001.
Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion seeded 30th, struggled with her serve — all sorts of strokes, actually — and lost 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 Sunday to 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland, who never has been past the second round of a major tournament.
The quick exit for Williams, who was broken 11 of the 17 times she served, came a year after she lost in the second round at Roland Garros to Radwanska's older sister, Agnieszka, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up.
"Yeah, of course, I was talking with Aga about Venus," Urszula said. "I was well-prepared for this match, and I knew she was a great fighter, so I should be focused the whole match."
Williams, naturally, also knows a thing or two about having a more successful tennis-playing sibling, and her short stay in Paris comes a year after younger sister Serena, who owns 15 Grand Slam titles, was upset in the first round at Roland Garros. Serena made a fluent return to the clay-court major tournament in the early afternoon Sunday, overwhelming 74th-ranked Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 — and then addressing an appreciative audience at Court Philippe Chatrier in the local language.
"I have been speaking French for years and years, but I don't really have a lot of confidence," Serena said later, in English. "It's way, way more nerve-racking than playing tennis."
On this day, for her, absolutely.
With shadows creeping across the court in the early evening, Venus had a much tougher time against Urszula, who is far-less-accomplished than Agnieszka, the French Open's fourth seed.
Truth be told, this result really was not nearly as stunning as Serena's French Open loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in 2012. That remains Serena's only first-round departure in 51 appearances at Grand Slams.
Venus was one of two seeded players — men or women — to lose on Day 1: Monica Puig of Puerto Rico surprised No. 11 Nadia Petrova of Russia 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Otherwise, results went to form, with 17-time major champion Roger Federer picking up a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory over a guy making his Grand Slam debut, Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, while No. 4 David Ferrer, No. 14 Milos Raonic of Canada and No. 18 Sam Querrey of the United Sates also were among the winners.
Venus, 32 and still learning to live with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, now has two first-round losses in the past four Grand Slam tournaments. Her defeat at Wimbledon last June was the first time she'd left a major championship that early since she lost in the first round of the Australian Open 6½ years earlier.
The Williams sisters completely changed the way women's tennis was played in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with 120 mph serves, stinging forehands and fantastic court coverage. They played against each other in eight Grand Slam finals, including the 2002 French Open, which Serena won.
But Venus is no longer the same player, and Sunday, she never found a trace of consistency with her serve.
In a sign of the way things would develop, Venus was broken at love in the very first game. With Serena and their mother, Oracene Price, sitting in the stands — both occasionally placing chin on hand, looking glum — Venus kept missing the mark, finishing with 66 unforced errors to 40 for Urszula.
The match lasted 3 hours, 19 minutes, but it appeared ready to end much sooner, because Urszula took a 4-0 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, putting her three points from victory.
Perhaps feeling some nerves, Urszula started missing more, and Venus sprinkled in the occasional winner, reeling off seven points in a row to even the match at a set apiece. But Urszula broke Venus to open the third set and moved out to a 4-0 edge. Venus made one last stand, getting within 5-4 — a handful of fans in the nearly empty Court Suzanne Lenglen stands started a clap-accompanied chant of "Let's go, Venus, let's go!" — she couldn't manage to pull even.
The match ended, fittingly, with one last miscue by Venus, a backhand she dumped into the net.
"I'm still shaking. Just a long match," Urszula told the crowd afterward. "It's an amazing feeling to beat her."
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