Deep into the third set of Venus Williams' Thursday night match against Angelique Kerber at Ashe Stadium, a chant went up: "Let's go Venus."
Pam Shriver, ESPN's courtside reporter, said she never had heard that before. At nearly one in the morning, after her loss to Kerber in the second round, Williams said she hadn't heard it previously, either, hadn't heard the crowd so fervently on her side despite her being a two-time Open champion, a seven-time Grand Slam winner.
"There were a lot of people shouting out," Williams said. "I know this is not proper tennis etiquette, but this is the first time I've ever played here that the crowd has been behind me like that. Today I felt like an American, you know, for the first time at the U.S. Open. So I've waited my whole career to have this moment and here it is."
The crowd wasn't enough to pull her through, and she lost 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. At least she went out as the result of a match. Last year Williams withdrew from the tournament before a second-round match and announced that she had Sjogren's Syndrome, a condition that attacks the saliva and tear glands, and can cause fatigue. Friday night she played for 2:45 and didn't look abnormally tired after any point despite Kerber's ability to run down everything and make returns.
Williams had nothing to start the match and lost her serve five straight times. She made a total of 16 double faults and committed 60 unforced errors. But somehow she found a way to dig in, to grab the second set and soldier on. She's 32 years old, and unlike Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick who are retiring after this Open, she intends to keep going.
"If I could have made two more shots, I probably could have won that match," Williams said. "I think there's a big difference for me because I'm beating myself. I'm not getting destroyed out there . . . If I was out there and people were killing me, maybe it's time to hang it up. But right now I have to find the answer inside myself. The best part is that I'm playing my game, I'm playing aggressively and I know they will land. At the end of the day, at least the last shot I missed I was going for the gold. I didn't get the gold, but I went for it."