Monday, June 17, 2024

Venus Williams crashes out in opener with sister Serena watching from the stands

‘ Former World No.1 Venus Williams crashed out of the WTA Libema Open here, losing to Celine Naef in an inter-generational first-round encounter between wild cards.

Naef came back from a set and a breakdown to score a memorable win on her WTA main-draw debut, beating Venus Williams 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 in 2 hours and 18 minutes.

Williams, 42, owns seven Grand Slam singles crowns, five of which have come at Wimbledon. Naef, 17, is a former junior No.4 who had never played a tour-level match before. The Swiss teenager was born on June 25, 2005 — midway through the third of Venus’ Wimbledon title runs. In a further wrinkle, Naef’s childhood coach was Melanie Molitor, the mother of Venus’ old rival Martina Hingis, the WTA said in a report on their website.

A hamstring injury sustained in Auckland at the start of the year had sidelined Venus since January. But she came out in great form, knocking off a series of vintage volleys en route to taking the first set.

Watched by sister Serena, who retired from the sport last year, Venus maintained her momentum in the second set, pressuring Naef into error and breaking for 3-2.

But Naef has enjoyed a superb transition to the pro tour so far, rising from No.904 last September to her current No.202. Her record this season now stands at 29-8, and she showed her quality as she fought back.

She took the second set to tie-break, with both players showing all-court skill with passes, drop shots and volleys. Venus’ forehand was crucial in keeping her in the set — until the tiebreak when it let her down with three key unforced errors.

After a sequence of three breaks to begin the decider, Naef took control as Venus fell away. The American racked up 41 unforced errors, 16 of which came in the last eight games.

Naef will next face No.8 seed Caty McNally, who needed just 65 minutes to take out fellow American Katie Volynets.

In first-round action, No.4 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova kicked off her title defence with a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Evgeniya Rodina; and No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu survived a valiant effort from Turkish qualifier Zeynep Sonmez, advancing 6-4, 6-4. Sonmez, 21, was also making her WTA main-draw debut.



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