NEW YORK – After her latest early Grand Slam exit, Venus Williams was asked what the future holds for her at the U.S. Open.
In one breath, Williams brushed aside the unspoken reference to retirement, saying, I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere.
And in the next, she added, I mean, next year’s Open is so far away right now.
At 33, slowed the past couple of years by an autoimmune disease that saps energy, and hampered much of this season by a bad back, Williams knows by now that such queries are going to arrive, particularly after results such as her 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) loss to 56th-ranked Zheng Jie of China on a wet Wednesday at Flushing Meadows. It is the third year in a row that the two-time champion is out of the U.S. Open after two rounds.
If I didn’t think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn’t be here, said Williams, who was ranked No. 1 in 2002 and is currently 60th. I feel like I do, and that’s why I’m here.
The American acquitted herself well for stretches, erasing deficits over and over again, until she simply ran out of solutions against Zheng, a former top-15 player and twice a major semifinalist.
I just kept trying to fight today, Williams said.
In what she took as an encouraging sign, Williams was out there for 3 hours, 2 minutes, tying for the fifth-longest women’s match since 1970 at the U.S. Open. The third set alone lasted 1 1/2 hours.
I was like, Wow, this is a marathon,’ Williams said.
Near the finish line, she faltered. On the final two points, Williams missed a volley, then a return.
Rain began falling in the early afternoon, jumbling the schedule, and eight women’s singles matches were postponed entirely, including Williams’ younger sister Serena against Galina Voskoboeva.
2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro wrapped up a contentious 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory over 74th-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain that stretched more than four hours.
No. 17 Kevin Anderson of South Africa, No. 20 Andreas Seppi of Italy, No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, 2001 U.S. Open title winner Lleyton Hewitt and 109th-ranked American wild-card entry Tim Smyczek also were among the winners. No. 16 Fabio Fognini and No. 29 Jurgen Melzer lost.
Women’s winners included 2011 French Open champion Li Na, 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska and 30th-seeded Laura Robson of Britain. Robson beat Li last year in New York, and now they’ll have a rematch.