PARIS — Grimacing after some poor shots, leaning forward with hands on knees while catching her breath after others, Venus Williams left the French Open after the first round for the first time since 2001.
Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player seeded 30th at Roland Garros, felt hampered by a bad back, had problems with her serve — all sorts of strokes, actually — and lost 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 Sunday to 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland, who never has been past the second round of a major tournament.
Inflammation in her lower back limited Williams to two matches over the previous 11⁄2 months, preparation she called, with a chuckle, “extremely unideal.”
“I can’t really serve very hard. It’s painful when I do that. But I’m getting better. I just, you know, ran out of time to get better for this tournament,” said Williams, broken 11 of the 17 times she served Sunday. “My strategy was more or less to put the ball in, and that’s very difficult for me, too, because that’s not who I am. But that’s all I had.”
Her quick exit came a year after she lost in the second round at Roland Garros to Radwanska’s older sister, Agnieszka, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up.
“Yeah, of course, I was talking with Aga about Venus,” Urszula said. “I was well-prepared for this match, and I knew she was a great fighter, so I should be focused the whole match.”
Williams, naturally, also knows a thing or two about having a more successful tennis-playing sibling, and her short stay in Paris comes a year after younger sister Serena, who owns 15 Grand Slam titles, was upset in the first round at Roland Garros. Serena made a fluent return to the clay-court tournament in the early afternoon Sunday, overwhelming 74th-ranked Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 — and then addressing an appreciative audience at Court Philippe Chatrier in the local language.