Sara Errani rallies to outlast Venus Williams at U.S. Open

Italy's Sara Errani outlasts Venus Williams at the U.S. Open on Aug. 29, 2014 after a close match in Flushing. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware / AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

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A couple of days ago, Venus Williams was asked what changes she would make in tennis if she were in charge of the sport.

"It would be against the rules," she said, "for anyone named Williams to lose."

A little joke. But such legislation would have come in handy Friday, when the 19th-seeded Williams -- two points from victory -- wound up on the short end of a 6-0, 0-6, 7-6 (5) wrangle with Italy's Sara Errani.

Another helpful regulation for the 34-year-old Williams would have been some sort of restriction against unforced errors. She committed a whopping 52 in aiding the No. 13 Errani's survival.

"I have to emphasize that she played really well," Williams said. "They don't get easier, and today my errors were out of control."

There was a time when there did appear to be a tennis edict against a Venus Williams loss at the Open. She won the tournament in 2000 and 2001 and was runner-up to sister Serena in 2002.

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Since then, though, she has been as far as the semifinals only twice, in 2007 and 2010. And Friday's third-round loss followed second-round exits the previous three years.

The 27-year-old Errani hardly can match Williams' history of seven major-tournament titles; Errani's loss to Maria Sharapova in the 2012 French Open is her only appearance in a Grand Slam final. But she has enjoyed more recent success, as a semifinalist in the 2012 U.S. and 2013 French Opens and a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Australian Open.

This year's departing match for Williams tilted violently from Errani's thorough first-set control to Williams' equally dominant second set, in great part because of Williams' ability to get a grip on her serving accuracy and sharply cut down on her errors.

But Errani, winless in three earlier meetings with Williams (when Errani was able to win only three games total), was the quicker of the two, with far less power but more accuracy on her serve.

Still, Williams dragged herself back from twice being down a break in the third and was serving for the match at 5-3 when she committed one of her eight double-faults.

Once in the tiebreaker, Errani benefited from four more unforced errors by Williams. "At that point," Williams said, "I think I was trying to go for too much."

So too, was the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, with its raucous support of Williams. At one point, Errani put her finger to her lips for silence during the tiebreaker. "Of course the crowd was for her, totally for her," Errani said. "I was not angry. I was with the tension, the adrenaline in the body, I don't know. I don't know why I did like that. The crowd was amazing, even if it was not for me. But to hear that scream of all the people, I think I will remember always."

Williams, on the other hand, did not want to think much about memories. "In your head," she said, "you're still very young. I'm still young. Future's looking bright."

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