Venus beaten, Sharapova wins at French
PARIS: Out of breath and out of sorts, Venus Williams played her way right out of the French Open on Friday with her most lopsided Grand Slam loss since 2001.
That the No. 3-seeded Williams would exit in the third round at Roland Garros is not quite so extraordinary, perhaps, considering she now has left this particular Grand Slam tournament at this precise stage in four of the past five years.
That Williams would lose the way she did — 6-0, 6-4 — and to the player she did — 29th-seeded Agnes Szavay of Hungary, whose resume boasts a lone major quarterfinal appearance — was anything but ordinary.
"I'm used to beating people 6-0. I'm not used to my shot not going in and losing a set 6-0," Williams said. "So it completely was foreign ground for me."
The red clay of Paris often feels that way to the older Williams sister, whose seven Grand Slam singles titles were earned at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Based on seeding and name, her departure qualifies as by far the tournament's most significant.
Hours later, Maria Sharapova appeared headed in the same direction. Like Williams, Sharapova hasn't won the French Open, and she, too, slogged through three sets in each of her first two matches this week, then looked awful at the start Friday.
But Sharapova, surgically repaired right shoulder and all, did what Williams couldn't: She pulled herself together and moved into the fourth round. Sharapova came back to beat 98th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
While Sharapova found herself in yet another two-hour-plus test, No. 1 Dinara Safina and defending champion Ana Ivanovic won easily. Four-time reigning champion Rafael Nadal made things look simple against former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, beating him 6-1, 6-3, 6-1, and No. 3 Andy Murray, No. 8 Fernando Verdasco, No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko and No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez also reached the fourth round.
"I dug a nice pothole for myself there. That's kind of what I've been doing the last few rounds," Sharapova said. "I don't think she came up with great shots in order to win that first set. I honestly believe that I was making easy errors."
Williams offered a similar assessment after finishing with more than twice as many unforced errors (23) as winners (10) against Szavay.
"She hung in there. She played really well, but I definitely have to attribute that loss to, you know, to me not being able to execute what I wanted to on the court," Williams said. "It seemed every shot I tried, somehow, it found a way to go out."
Her mother, Oracene Price, offered an explanation: She thought Williams was wiped out after her second-round match began Wednesday, was suspended by darkness, then was completed Thursday. Williams was forced to save a match point before winning that one.
"Sometimes a match is so emotional, kind of draining mentally," Price said. "And then she didn't really get her real rest."
Williams' father, Richard, said after Thursday's victory that his daughter was dealing with a knee problem. She often was out of position against Szavay, who held her own in the kind of baseline exchanges Williams can dominate more easily on faster surfaces.
It was the 14th time in 662 career matches that Williams was shut out in a set, and her only worse defeat in Grand Slam play was a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Martina Hingis in the 2001 Australian Open semifinals.
"I said, 'Fight! Try to find some fire!' She just didn't have it, couldn't bring it out today, for some reason," Price said. "Probably doesn't understand it herself."
Neither, really, did Szavay, whose only real blip came when she double-faulted, then put a forehand into the net, allowing Williams to break for a 4-3 lead in the second set. But Williams wouldn't win another game, double-faulting to get broken right back, then adding to her error count the rest of the way.
An awkward, out-of-position forehand by Williams landed in the net, putting Szavay one point from completing the upset.
"I started to think, 'Oh, my God, I have match point against Venus,'" Szavay said.
If she was nervous, it didn't show, and when Williams slapped one last backhand into the net, the match was over and Szavay was skipping to the net with glee.
Later Friday, Williams teamed with sister Serena to reach the third round in doubles with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over — guess who? — Szavay and Gisela Dulko. Little consolation to someone whose mother says Williams' "major focus right now" is trying to add a French Open or Australian Open singles title to her collection.
"Every time she gets here, it's just weird," Price said. "It's like the players know, 'I've got a chance now.' I think the players go, 'I've got a better chance on clay than any other surface.'"