June 27 (Bloomberg) -- Defending champion Serena Williams lost to France’s Marion Bartoli in the fourth round of Wimbledon, ending her comeback after almost a year away from tennis because of injuries and illness.
The 29-year-old American, a four-time champion at the All England Club, was beaten 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) by the No. 9 seed on Court 1. It was her earliest defeat at Wimbledon since 2005.
“To beat Serena is almost like a dream come true,” Bartoli told the British Broadcasting Corp. shortly after the match. “Serena is very imposing, is a huge opponent over the net. I was trying to stay in my own bubble, trying to forget who I was playing.”
Williams won last year’s tournament, and then lost almost a year, dropping out of the top 10 last month and is now ranked 25th. Because of her success on the grass courts in London, she had been seeded No. 7. Serena and her older sister Venus, who could only have met in this year’s finals, have won nine of the last 11 Wimbledon singles titles. After today’s loss, Serena’s ranking is projected to drop to around No. 180, according to the women’s WTA Tour.
Williams was trying to equal Germany’s Steffi Graf in winning three straight titles at the All England Club. It was her earliest loss at Wimbledon since a third-round defeat in 2005, and she’s the first reigning women’s champion to lose before the quarterfinals since Amelie Mauresmo of France in 2007.
Four Match Points
Moving Williams all over the court from the start with her ground strokes, the double-handed Bartoli took the first set 6-3. In the second set, both players held serve until 5-5, when Bartoli broke as the American hit a backhand volley wide on breakpoint. In the next game, Williams saved three match points as Bartoli served. In the tie-break, Williams saved a fourth match point with an ace at 5-6. Serving for the match leading 7-6, Bartoli moved to the quarterfinals with a service winner.
“It was not easy mentally,” Bartoli said. “But I am in the best shape of my life and I’m playing the best tennis right now.”
The Frenchwoman produced ten aces, two more than Williams. Bartoli struck 21 winners and made 17 unforced errors, while the American had 29 winners and committed 20 mistakes.
No. 7 seed Williams had only returned to the women’s tour a week before the start of Wimbledon. She lost in the second round of a grass-court warmup event in Eastbourne, England, to now third-ranked Vera Zvonareva. Bartoli, a 2007 runnerup at Wimbledon, had won the Eastbourne event.
Shortly after beating Zvonareva in last year’s Wimbledon final for her 13th major, Williams hurt her foot after walking through glass in a restaurant in Germany. The injury required two operations, and then came treatment for blood clots in her lungs in February. Williams had been sent to hospital by her physiotherapist when she had difficulty breathing while on her way to a party in Los Angeles.
The week before the start of Wimbledon in Eastbourne, she described her condition as “possibly career-ending” and even “life-threatening.”
In an interview in Eastbourne, she said the experience changed her outlook on tennis and life.
“I think my toughest moment was just mental,” she said. “I went through so much and I thought, ‘Will I be able to play tennis again? Do I even want to play tennis again, or do I just want to get healthy again?’ That was the first and foremost thing on my mind.”
Bartoli, 26, was the runnerup to Serena’s older sister and five-time champion Venus Williams in 2007 at Wimbledon. It’s the first time she’s beaten Serena Williams in three tries. She’s ranked ninth by the women’s WTA Tour after winning at Eastbourne and reaching the finals in Indian Wells, California, and Strasbourg. Earlier this month, she reached the French Open semifinals.
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