Venus Williams would not go quietly into the night.
With her first serve late for school, her second serve on sabbatical and her groundstrokes barely making passing grades, Williams was about to be expelled from the U.S. Open by Angelique Kerber in two quick sets Thursday night.
But the one thing that has never left her is the ability to compete, compete to the end. For all her 32 years, through all the injuries and now a lifelong affliction, you could always count on Venus Williams to compete.
After 2 hours, 46 minutes of compelling tennis, Williams finally succumbed to Kerber, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5, in the first night match of the Open this year that really turned on the lights.
Last year Williams never made it to the second round after winning her first match. She withdrew and announced that she was suffering from Sjogren's Syndrome, a condition that affects the tear and saliva glands and causes fatigue.
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Thursday night, she didn't have a single weapon but somehow dug in, made her groundstrokes count and pushed the sixth-seeded Kerber into the third set. With the crowd chanting "Let's go Venus!'' she found a way to make things interesting.
Kerber covers the court so well, she should be nicknamed "Tarp.'' She runs downs everything, making Williams play much longer rallies than she's used to and making her expend too much energy. Williams made 60 unforced errors, had 16 double faults and won only 19 of her second-serve points but still hung in. She was given a rousing ovation as she left the court at about 12:30 a.m.
There wasn't much that her sister Serena could say Thursday after her victory over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
She was never really threatened in the 6-4, 6-2 win at Ashe Stadium, though her body language wasn't the best. There is no mistaking Serena's frustration when she's making mistakes. "I wasn't really happy with the way I was playing,'' she said. "I think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.''
As Serena was winning, one of her best friends was announcing his retirement. Andy Roddick was in the media room to say he's calling it quits after the Open, just as Kim Clijsters said this Open was her finale. At least Serena isn't retiring. "No, no, no,'' she said.
She was gushy, though, when asked about Roddick and Clijsters.
"He told me a while ago, last year, that this would be it,'' Williams said. "I was at his house in Austin . . . I was just thinking, 'Change your mind, Andy, change your mind.' ''
Though she has long known that Clijsters was retiring, she found herself teary about it.
"I saw her [Wednesday]. Just hugged her,'' Serena said "My eyes got watery. I really like her. She's such a great person. I didn't expect that reaction, but she definitely will be missed on tour. I didn't realize how much until [Wednesday].''