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Venus bids first-round adieu in Paris

Slowed by bad back, grimacing in pain

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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 1 1/2 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.

Magnifique!

"I have been speaking French for years and years, but I don't really have a lot of confidence," Serena said later, in English. "It's way, way more nerve-racking than playing tennis."

On this day, for her, absolutely.

With shadows creeping across the court in the early evening, Venus had a much tougher time against Urszula, who is far-less-accomplished than Agnieszka, the French Open's fourth seed.

Truth be told, this result really was not nearly as stunning as Serena's French Open loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano (who also won Sunday) in 2012. That remains Serena's only first-round departure in 51 appearances at Grand Slams, and she rebounded by winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Olympics.

Venus, 32 and still learning to live with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, now has two first-round losses in the past four Grand Slam tournaments. Her defeat at Wimbledon last June was the first time she'd left a major championship that early since she lost in the first round of the Australian Open 6 1/2 years earlier.

"With what I've gone through, it's not easy. But I'm strong and I'm a fighter. You know, I don't think I'm just playing for me now. I think I'm playing for a lot of people who haven't felt well," Venus said. "I think for me today it's a positive to be able to play three hours. I'm constantly finding ways to get better and to feel better."

Venus kept missing the mark, finishing with 66 unforced errors to 40 for Urszula.

The only other seeded player to lose on Day 1 was No. 11 Nadia Petrova of Russia, who was defeated by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Otherwise, results went to form, with 17-time major champion Roger Federer picking up a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory over a guy making his Grand Slam debut, Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, while No. 4 David Ferrer, No. 14 Milos Raonic of Canada and No. 18 Sam Querrey of the United Sates also were among the winners.

In an intriguing encounter filled with momentum swings, No. 15 Gilles Simon of France overcame a two-set deficit for the first time in his career to edge two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2013 $sourceSection0

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