Contrasting fortunes for Venus and Sharapova

 

Tennis:World number one Maria Sharapova made a brisk start to her Wimbledon campaign with a 6-2 6-3 defeat of Australian Anastasia Rodionova on Centre Court today, but five-time champion Venus Williams did not make it over the first hurdle at Wimbledon 2012.

Williams gave a defiant performance on the opening day of Wimbledon but unfortunately for the American it came in the press conference room rather than on court. The five-time Wimbledon champion Williams lost in the opening round of her favourite grand slam for the first time since 1997, her debut year at the Championships.

The 32-year-old was bundled out in straight sets by Russian Elena Vesnina, who claimed a fine 6-1 6-3 success on Court Two. Williams’ only previous experience of a first-round singles loss at Wimbledon came as a 17-year-old 15 years ago when she was defeated by Polish player Magdalena Grzybowska.

Today Vesnina could hardly believe her achievement, with the 25-year-old dancing a jig of joy and all smiles after securing a second-round clash with number three seed Agnieszka Radwanska. And then attention turned to whether it would be the last time Williams, who has had major health problems over the last year, plays a Wimbledon campaign.

She was coy at first, responding to initial questioning about whether she would be seen again on the grass courts of SW19, by saying: “Yeah, at the Olympics you’ll see me here.”

A third Olympic gold in the doubles with Serena later this summer would offer a sweet occasion on which to retire, but Venus is adamant she will be back playing at Wimbledon next year. “I’m planning on it,” she said.

Then came an explosive moment, a seemingly reasonable question enquiring what would drive her on after the Olympics ending in the reporter suggesting Williams is “struggling”. “Am I struggling?” Williams replied. “Am I? I don’t know. Tell me what the struggle is.

“I just want you to be clear. If you say I’m struggling, tell me how I should do better. I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player. Unfortunately, I had to deal with circumstances that people don’t normally have to deal with in this sport.”

Williams is down at 58th in the world rankings, with Sjogren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disease, having kept her sidelined between last summer’s US Open and the WTA tournament at Miami in March. There has been plenty of speculation she could soon retire, but she said today: “I’m up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity.

“There’s no way I’m just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freaking tournaments back. That’s just not me. I just try to stay positive and focused on the tennis. Not let anything get to me, like, you know, crazy questions.

“But I’m tough, let me tell you, tough as nails.”

Williams’ energy has been affected by her medical condition, so to be back playing grand slam tennis is a triumph she wants to celebrate. “It’s definitely a big victory to be back,” she said. “With each day that passes, that means I have another chance. If the sun comes up, I have a chance.

“I don’t have time to be negative. I don’t know if you’ve had any negative experience, but it’s not fun. I like to use the same time to be positive because it feels a whole lot better.”

Sharapovawas 4-0 up with only a point dropped in the first set and made it 5-0 with equal ease before meeting some brief resistance, with Rodionova holding serve and then breaking for 5-2.

The first two games of the second set went with serve before the powerful Russian romped into a 5-1 lead.

Rodionova delayed the inevitable with a break for 5-2, and then held serve for 5-3, before the French Open champion reasserted herself and served out with an ace.

Sharapova, the champion in 2004, turned to wave and blow kisses at the crowd, who gave her a standing ovation, before departing after one hour 10 minutes on court.

Third seed Agnieszka Radwanskacomfortably beat Magdalena Rybarikova6-3 6-3, while there were also straight-sets wins for US Open champion Sam Stosurand former French Open winner Li Na. Both lost just four games - to Carla Suarez Navarroand Ksenia Pervakrespectively.

Last year's semi-finalist Sabine Lisickialso progressed, but one seed to fall was number 16 Flavia Pennetta. She was beaten 6-4 6-3 by her Italian compatriot Camila Giorgi, who came through qualifying at Roehampton last week.

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