Double Disaster, Williams-Style

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 /by
AP Photos
AP Photos

“I felt like this was a match that I was most likely going to win. I'm sure—I don't know how Serena felt, but I'm sure she feels like that every time she goes on the court. So I think our expectation was to play in the next round.”—Venus Williams, shortly after losing to Anna Schmiedlova in the second round at Roland Garros.

PARIS—Venus spoke those words at almost exactly the same moment when, out on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Serena went down by set and two breaks to Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. And her press conference was barely concluded when the news sizzled through the labyrinthine halls and backstage areas of Stade Roland Garros: Serena had joined her sister as a second-round loser.

This isn’t the first time that the sisters both lost on the same day. It last happened fairly recently, in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2011. It also happened here at Roland Garros once, in 2008, when both failed in the third round.

But—and this is the poignant, ominous part for the Williams’ fans—I’m fairly sure it’s the first time both of them lost one round before they were penciled in to meet. There certainly was a ‘twilight of the gods’ sort of dolor left after all this played out on an overcast, chilly day in Paris.

Serena took the loss harder than did Venus, which is hardly surprising because she never found anything like even her B-game. Venus, on the other hand, kicked and clawed and blasted resounding serves and returns, winning the first set before Schmiedlova wore her down in three. It wasn’t as formidable a task as it might seem, given that Venus is quickly closing on age 34 and Schmiedlova is a spry 19-year-old who covers the court wonderfully and has clean, beautifully grooved groundstrokes.

“I think she's very good already, and she's going to be even better as she continues to play,” Venus said of the winner afterward. “I see wonderful things for her.”

Venus lost 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, and almost extended the match when she fought off two match points at 3-5 in the third to hold. But by the time Schmiedlova served the last game, Venus’ once crisp, offensive serve returns were flying awry, and her long legs were balking at the idea of working overtime in this two hour and 14-minute dust-up.

“You know, in the second and third, I think I made too many errors,” Venus said. “And I think she just played so well and just kept getting so many balls in the court. It just wasn't my day in the last couple of sets.”

It will be small consolation to Venus, but at least she mustered stiff resistance even as the battle slipped away from her. The same cannot be said for Serena, who started flat as blown tire and never did get any air under her punishing strokes, nor any pop on her big serve.

Muguruza broke Serena five times. We see plenty of Serena matches that barely break the one hour mark, but this time, the 64-minute match ended with the world No. 1 on the unfamiliar side of the win-loss column. Muguruza played as well as she needed to; it’s hard to shine when your opponent is spraying balls all over the place.

But to her credit, Muguruza played within herself when she had the lead. The 20-year-old did a much better job than many other women who have found themselves somewhere they had dreamed of being, without ever really expecting it to happen, or having the luxury to prepare for it. What nerves she showed just underscored how well she handled them in general.

The 6-2, 6-2 defeat was the worst loss Serena has ever suffered in a major, in terms of games won. She had good reason to be tight-lipped and stony during her own presser. “I don't think anything worked for me today,” she said. “Which is just. . . nothing really worked. I don't know anything that actually worked.”

Serena made 29 unforced errors and hit only eight winners; she had just one more ace than Muguruza’s two. She simply never found her groove. When she was asked if she was angry with herself, or merely disappointed, for failing to mount anything like one of her trademark comebacks, she replied:

“No, I'm really happy with myself. I feel great. I mean, yeah. Obviously I'm super disappointed and, you know, it's hard. I worked really hard. But, hey—maybe I can do better. I know for a fact I can work harder.

“I know for a fact I can play so much better than what I did today, so, I mean, it's a double‑edged sword.”

At the moment, it seemed little consolation to either woman that the next major is Wimbledon, where they have a combined total of 10 titles. But check back on that in a day or two.

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