Venus fails to go for the jugular in second-round loss

Updated: January 22, 2009

Venus down and distracted

MELBOURNE, Australia -- If you hang around enough, you learn to judge the Williams sisters by their mood.

The attitude Venus Williams exuded in her first news conference Tuesday was a tip-off that she might not hang around the Australian Open singles main draw. After that first-round win over Angelique Kerber, the reigning Wimbledon champion came across as aloof and distracted, an attitude that often signals that there are problems to come.

And it didn't take long for trouble to surface.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Sixth-seeded Venus Williams is the highest-ranked player on either tour to lose.

Williams suffered what should be a humiliating 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 loss to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in the second round Thursday night, squandering a 5-2 lead as well as a match point with Suarez Navarro serving at 4-5, 30-40 (on a backhand that went long in the final set). It's not that No. 46 Suarez Navarro is a bad player, but let's be real: The Spaniard's game translates better to clay courts, and she doesn't own seven Grand Slam titles.

Williams last lost this early at a Slam right here at the Australian Open -- in 2006, it was in the opening round -- and continued to be aloof and distracted in deciphering her loss to the media. It wasn't that she was rude; she just didn't seem disturbed by the outcome. She honorably gave Suarez Navarro credit for a well-played match, but while she talked a good game, her body language and other comments suggested the defeat was no big deal.

During the brief postmatch news conference, Williams spent much of her time flipping her long braids around her head as she answered questions, eventually leaving herself looking askew with a lopsided-looking style. She either hides disappointment better than most, or she just wasn't really disheartened by how her evening went.

In the end, she conceded that lack of offense, a situation she has gotten stuck in previously, was her downfall. This might strike many as a sin, considering Williams is armed with the goods to be the serve-and-volley queen of the courts. Billie Jean King has spent much time during many Fed Cup outings trying to convince Venus that serve and volley is her birthright.

"Yeah, I wasn't in control of the points," said Williams, giving off the faintest of sighs with a smile. "I definitely noticed that she kept getting the first shot. I was definitely playing defensive. I'm definitely used to dictating the points a little more. It was kind of a pattern that wasn't the best for me."

Williams had better hope there isn't a pattern brewing similar to how her 2006 season went after an early defeat in Melbourne. That year devolved into an injury-plagued campaign in which she failed to reel off a solitary title.

Judging by her latest form and her palpable indifference, only time will tell.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for

Five things we learned on Day 4

1. Rafa is a comedian:Rafael Nadal's English is a lot better than it was a few years ago. Still, he understandably sometimes has trouble articulating. That led to this funny exchange between the world No. 1 and a journalist after his predictable second-round win over unheralded Croatian Roko Karanusic.

Q: "Does anything set Melbourne apart for you, make it seem different to you?"

A: "I think is a calm city, big city, but at the same time calm. Problems with my English, no? Calm? No. I think you understand more than my secretary."

There were more laughs in the room when it was brought to Nadal's attention that he apparently flattened his heavy forehand. "No, not true," he said. "I didn't know nothing about that."

2. Serena can beat the men: Winning nine Grand Slam titles is some achievement. But Serena Williams, who gritted her way past inspired Argentine Gisela Dulko in two sets, says topping Andy Roddick was her "greatest match." Williams claimed she beat Roddick during a practice encounter, perhaps as an 11-year-old.

"So, indirectly, you know, I've beaten a lot of people on the men's side," she gushed. "He always says he's ready for a rematch, but there's no need for a rematch. I think I beat him like 6-1. He says it was 6-4. But I believe it was 6-1."

Up next for Williams is Chinese power baseliner Peng Shuai, guided by Roddick's former coach, Tarik Benhabiles.

3. Elena is rolling: Don't look now, but Elena Dementieva has won 12 straight matches. The Russian dispatched tricky left-hander Iveta Benesova 6-4, 6-1 to set up a third-round meeting with one of the two remaining Aussies in the draw, Samantha Stosur.

Dementieva enjoyed a renaissance in 2008, claiming Olympic gold and making the semifinals in the previous two Grand Slams. She altered her offseason training routine in the hopes of keeping it going.

"Instead of practicing in Moscow indoors, I just spend all the time in Miami, practicing outside in a similar condition as here," the fourth seed said. "It really helps me to get used to the weather conditions in Australia. Just much more easy physically to play right now."

4. Tiebreakers aren't necessary when Ivo plays: A five-set match featuring Ivo Karlovic with no tiebreakers? Yes, it happened.

Despite hitting 25 aces, 6-foot-10 Karlovic went out early yet again at a Grand Slam, falling to countryman Mario Ancic 5-7, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Court 2.

Ancic broke Karlovic five times.

5. Aussie tennis is up and down: Stosur's win over up-and-coming German Sabine Lisicki means two Australian women -- Jelena Dokic is the other -- advanced to the third round at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2004.

Chris Guccione's loss to Frenchman Gilles Simon, however, left no Aussie man in the third round at the Australian Open for the first time in seven years.

Stosur proved Nadal isn't the only one with a penchant for comedy, evidenced by this snippet from her postmatch news conference.

Q: "First time we've had two women in the third round [since 2004]. Seems to be a lot of hype around you and Jelena. Can you put your finger on why that is?

A: "I don't know. Maybe it's because we're in the third round. Maybe that's it."

-- Ravi Ubha



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Designing woman weighs in


Serena Williams, who dabbles in fashion design as a side career, offered an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Michelle Obama on her two inaugural outfits.

"I loved them," she said of the new first lady's selection for the momentous occasion.

But, apparently, Williams saw Obama's sunshine-kissed yellow afternoon ensemble as green. In actuality, only Obama's accessories -- leather gloves and patent shoes -- were green.

"I thought the green outfit was fabulous. I really liked the necklace that went with it. The kids, I thought the kids were so cute in their little outfits, as well. Then her white dress, the one-shoulder piece, I liked it a lot. I wish I could have designed a dress for her. I should have submitted a design. I wouldn't have been able to make it or get it done."

And just what would Williams have designed for Obama under her "Aneres" label?

"I kind of liked the way the one-shoulder piece she picked was going. I definitely would have tried to do something for the ball as opposed to the inauguration because I do more or less evening gowns as my specialty. I would have done cream, like she wore, because I love her skin color. It looks wonderful in cream."

Good news, bad news


It was a day of mixed sentiments at the Australian Open for No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

What put a smile on Kuzy's face? She finally got her first straight-sets match win of the year when she sent Tatjana Malek packing 6-2, 6-2 in the second round.

What put a frown on Kuzy's face? Her next opponent.

She is scheduled to face Alona Bondarenko in the third round, and the Ukrainian seems to have her Russian neighbor's number, having beaten Kuznetsova both times they've played.

"I don't think my record is very good against her. She's tough, but she's not going to kill me with her hard strokes because she doesn't hit hard. But I have to play my own game, because the times I lost I overplayed and I think that's not too good a game to play."

Of owning Kuznetsova in their previous matches, Bondarenko says, "We know each other for like 10 years, and we know how each other can play. We'll see after tomorrow what happens, but I think I need to play my game and we'll see what happens."

Thursday in the Down Under news


A front page photograph of Barack and Michelle Obama's first dance as president and first lady, to the song "At Last," highlighted newspapers in Australia on Thursday morning.

But despite the clear obsession with the new president, American journalists in the Australian Open press room noted that if the Australians had just elected Barack Obama prime minister, it wouldn't have made as big a stir.

The Herald Sun featured a photo of talented Dane Caroline Wozniacki hitching a ride on a Harley-Davidson for a few laps around Albert Park.

Following in her younger sister Serena's footsteps, it was reported that Venus Williams was out shopping with her mom, Oracene, in tow. Williams spent 300 Australian dollars (about 200 U.S. dollars) on two dresses from the 50 percent off sale rack at the Wayne Cooper boutique on trendy Chapel Street.

Tennis stars also have been seen out and about at a number of restaurants. Not surprisingly, Marcos Baghdatis favors the Greek Deli and Taverna, where he's been three times already for a spit-roasted lamb meal. Serena Williams also ordered takeout at the establishment. Andy Roddick checked out Nobu at the Crown Casino, as has former player Jim Courier, who is doing Australian Channel 7 commentary. The longtime Mexican haunt Fiesta Mexican Restaurant continues to be popular with players and had visits from Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Lleyton Hewitt and his actress wife, Bec Cartwright Hewitt.

Critic's choice


No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 26 Marat Safin: This is a really interesting match between the guy destined to be the best player ever -- that would be Federer -- and the guy who had the talent, but not the head, to be Federer's closest challenger through the years. Federer is a consistent performer who is comfortable with every shot in the book. Safin is the kind of guy who can look like the best player in the world one day and the worst player in the world the next. Symmetry suggests Safin should win Friday: Federer won their first three outings before Safin captured their quarterfinal match at the 2002 Moscow tournament. Then Federer won their next three matches before Safin won their five-set semifinal thriller here in 2005. And, you guessed it, Federer has won three straight again, so guess who should be the winner? prediction: Safin in five (who can argue with that math?)