Venus Williams was ousted in the second round of the French Open a day after her sister Serena lost her opening match, the worst performance for the American pair in a major tennis tournament.
Williams was beaten by third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 6-2, 6-3, on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros. The 53rd-ranked woman had been playing in her first major since she was diagnosed last year with Sjogren’s syndrome, an energy sapping autoimmune disease that left her barely able to lift her arms.
Even with today’s loss, Venus Williams probably gained a berth in the Olympics in London by winning one match.
The Williams sisters, who hold a combined 20 major singles titles, exited the 2008 French Open in the third round, and the 2008 Australian Open in the quarterfinals. They went out in the last eight in Paris in 2004, and both lost at Wimbledon in the last 16 a year ago.
Venus had 33 unforced errors and 17 winners. Radwanska made six errors and hit 14 winners. Venus signed autographs and then waved to the crowd and smiled as she left the court.
“I was just ready for the match,” Radwanska said. “Of course when I saw the draw I wasn’t very happy, because Venus as a second round, it’s not easy. But I won.”
Twenty-four hours before Venus’ defeat, Serena, the oddsmakers’ title favorite, was handed the earliest loss of her Grand Slam career by France’s Virginie Razzano, who beat the 30- year-old 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in the opening round. Serena, the champion in Paris a decade ago, squandered a 5-1 lead in the second-set tiebreak against an opponent ranked 111th in the world and struggling with cramps in the last game of the match.
“It is disappointing,” Serena said in a news conference. “But it’s life. Things could be a lot worse.”
If it wasn’t for the London Olympics, Venus wouldn’t even be at Roland Garros.
Life has changed since the 31-year-old was diagnosed last year with Sjogren’s. The condition forced Williams, a seven-time major singles champion, to withdraw from the U.S. Open, and re- think her priorities. After New York, Venus dropped out of the top 100 and didn’t play again until March.
“I wasn’t really ready to come back but I had to come back so I could play the Olympics and I needed points,” Williams, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, told reporters at the Rome Masters shortly before the French Open.
Olympics at Wimbledon
The Olympic tennis tournament will be held at the All England Club, where Venus has won five singles titles and four doubles titles with Serena. The London Games start July 27.
Like Venus, Serena has struggled with health problems in recent years. After winning her 13th major title at Wimbledon in 2010, she was away from the tour for almost a year. After two foot operations that she said were the result of accidentally walking through glass in a restaurant in Germany, Serena had treatment for blood clots in her lungs in February 2011.
“I almost died and Venus is struggling herself,” Serena said after losing to Razzano.
Venus is ranked 53rd, and her first-round win in Paris will push her to around No. 48, according to the women’s WTA tour.
The top four American women will make the cut for the London Games, provided they’re ranked inside the top 60 on June 11, the day after Roland Garros, according to the WTA. Venus will remain the third-highest American woman after the French Open, provided fellow U.S. player Varvara Lepchenko, who is ranked 10 spots above Venus, doesn’t make the quarterfinals in Paris. Lepchenko has never got past the second round of a major.
Sjogren’s syndrome, which is mainly found in women, can cause extreme fatigue and joint pain and affect internal organs, according to Arthritis Research U.K. Although not life- threatening, it can lead to inflammation in the muscles and lungs, make patients feel lethargic and cause dryness in the mouth and eyes.
After her first-round win in Paris, Venus said she is taking each day as it comes.
“It’s a big accomplishment for me to be here right now,” she told reporters. “I just learned how to live with this. It’s different. I have a lot to learn still. A lot of it I have to figure out. It’s physical and emotional and all kinds of different things, mental,” she added.
Venus will have a shot on the fast grass courts of Wimbledon, according to 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert.
“If Venus is going to do it well at any Grand Slam, it’s going to be Wimbledon, where she moves very nicely on the grass,” Evert said on an ESPN conference call last week. “She’s very comfortable, she’s won there so many times, and the points are shorter.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh at Roland Garros through the London sports desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.