Venus Williams upset in first round
Australia – Just as she was starting to show glimpses of returning to form, Venus Williams was let down by her serve and her concentration at crucial times and lost 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova on day one of the Australian Open.
The No. 22-seeded Makarova upset Serena Williams in the fourth round here in 2012, but was comprehensively outplayed in the first set against the elder of the Williams sisters on Monday, dropping serve three times.
Williams had chances in the second set, too, missing a break-point opportunity to go up 4-2, and then serving three consecutive double-faults after leading the ninth game 40-30 to surrender a crucial break.
The 33-year-old Williams, the second-oldest player in the tournament and seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, took some time out after the second set to change her zebra-striped dress and came back strongly, taking a 3-0 lead. But Makarova rallied again and Williams’ error count rose — she had 21 of her 56 unforced errors in the deciding set.
She has struggled with injuries and illness in recent seasons but reached the final of the WTA event at Auckland to open the year and said after arriving at Melbourne Park that she was feeling better than she had in years.
“The last 12 months I have had issues, but this year I definitely am looking forward to having a good run and feeling well.”
That didn’t happen Monday.
“My level was a little bit too up and down.
“Obviously my error count was a little high,” Williams said. “I have to give her a lot of credit, though, she was very determined, played hard.”
It was only the second time in 14 appearances that Williams lost in the first round at the Australian Open, where her best run remains a loss to her sister in the 2003 final.
“It was a really tough match to play someone like Venus in the first round, she is such a great player,” Makarova said. “At 3-0 down (in the final set), I decided I had to fight for every point. I just kept fighting and I turned around the match.”
Makarova will meet another American in the second round after qualifier Irina Falconi beat Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain 6-3, 6-1.
Two-time finalist Li Na beating Ana Konjuh of Croatia — the youngest player in the tournament — 6-2, 6-0 in 61 minutes in the first round.
“Like zero, you know,” Li said when asked what she knew about Konjuh’s game ahead of the match. “I tried to find her game in YouTube, and I watched a couple of games. But it was still strange at the beginning of the match because I really didn’t know the way she played on the court.” Konjuh is the defending Australian Open and U.S. Open junior champion.
Li, who lost finals to Victoria Azarenka last year and Kim Clijsters in 2011, has advanced to at least the fourth round every year since 2010.
“This is my favorite Grand Slam,” said Li. “Always looking forward to come back to Melbourne.”
On Monday, Li frequently strayed from her traditional baseline position, several times volleying from the center of the court for winners during the fourth game of the second set when she broke Konjuh’s service.
Li will spend her off-day Tuesday studying any available video on qualifier Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon junior champion who beat 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan in three sets earlier Monday. Date-Krumm was 27 years older than Bencic, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon junior champion.
Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens was the first woman into the second round when she beat Britain’s Laura Robson 6-3, 6-0. No. 9 Angelique Kerber, No. 28 Flavia Pennetta and No. 31 Daniela Hantuchova also went through.