In her 60th Grand Slam appearance, in her 15th U.S. Open, Venus Williams went deep into the third set against Jie Zheng Wednesday night, three hours and two minutes deep.
And for all of her experience, and all of her talent, the 33-year-old came up two points short at the end. She lost the second-round match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) to the veteran Zheng, gave her a handshake and a warm smile at the net, packed her bags and left the supportive crowd at Armstrong Stadium with a few tired waves.
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"I definitely wish that I was playing in the third round," Williams said. "I tried. She played well, went for every shot. Unfortunately I didn't play consistent enough."
Williams has played precious little this year because of a back problem and hadn't been in a three-set match since she lost in the first round of the French Open. "I've had a tough set of circumstances to work through this year, and last year and the year before," she said with a small laugh. It went unmentioned that she will always have to cope with the energy-sapping Sjogren's Syndrome.
Zheng was all over Williams in the first set, returning her serves crisply and at sharp angles. Her forehand was surgical and Williams just couldn't find her timing. She turned things around in the second set, and maybe, just maybe this two-time Open champion would live to fight another day.
Then Zheng got her rhythm back and raced off to a 4-1 lead in the third. Williams held serve, then broke Zheng for 4-3, and with another hold would be back on serve. But Zheng, almost always the aggressor, broke for a 5-3 lead and now served for the match. Williams fought off a match point as rain drops fell. Williams won the next two points for a break, then the two held serve to take it to a tiebreak.
As they played the 10th game with Williams serving, the spritzing rain had stopped play on every other court. Television commentators Pam Shriver and Chris Evert wondered why the two experienced players didn't call for a rain delay. There was a brief delay after the 11th game, but the pair trundled on unfazed by the pesky drops. Rain had stopped the match after just two points early in the day.
Williams won the first point of the tiebreak but never again led it. At 5-5 she hesitated at net and failed to handle a high volley. "I was rushing trying to make a shot. I was always rushing," Williams said. When she returned Zheng's serve wide, her Open was over.
Later she fended off suggestions of retirement and talked of focusing on doubles here with sister Serena. "If I didn't think I had anything in the tank," she said, "I wouldn't be here."
Notes & quotes: In search of her first good finish at the Open, Agnieszka Radwanska won her second-round match over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, 6-0, 7-5. The first set lasted 21 minutes, the second 66. The Open is the one Grand Slam at which Radwanska, the No. 3 seed here after the withdrawal of Maria Sharapova, has failed to reach the quarterfinals . . . Serena Williams' match against Galina Voskoboeva, which was to be the last on Ashe during the day session, was posted until Thursday.