Williams ousted from French Open by Sloane Stephens
A loss by Venus Williams in the first round at a Grand Slam is no longer the rarity it once was. And, as it happens, the woman who beat Williams at the French Open yesterday, Sloane Stephens, is making a concerted effort, at her coach's behest, to focus less on who is on the other side of the net.
Still, it was hard not to see the 22-year-old Stephens' 7-6 (5), 6-1 dismissal of seven-time major champion Williams, who at 34 was the oldest woman in the field, as a statement about the directions their respective careers are heading.
For the 15th-seeded Williams, it was her second opening defeat in three years at Roland Garros. It also was the fifth time in the last 13 Grand Slam tournaments she's entered that she exited in the first round. Before that stretch, it happened once in 37 majors.
Williams didn't show up for a news conference, meaning she could face a fine.
Instead, she issued a five-sentence statement that read in part: "When you arrive at any tournament, you hope you will have a chance to work your way into the event, but I didn't have that opportunity - she just played better than me today."
That is true.
The 40th-ranked Stephens, who has reached the French Open's fourth round the last three years, was consistently strong from the baseline, making only 14 unforced errors to Williams' 30.
"I want her to play with a sense of joy ... and play everything as well as she can, relentlessly, and not be concerned with the result. Let the result take care of itself. And she did a good job of that today," said Stephens' coach, Nick Saviano.
The biggest victory of Ste-phens' career came at the 2013 Australian Open, when she defeated Williams' younger sister, Serena, en route to the semi-finals.
This was the first time Stephens had faced Venus Williams, other than beating her in an exhibition as a teen.
"But," Stephens said, "I don't think that really counts."
Two other seeded women lost yesterday: No. 14 Agnieszka Radwanska, who was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 2012, and No. 22 Barbora Strycova. Two seeded men exited, too, including No. 11 Feliciano Lopez, who now has 10 first-round exits in 15 appearances in Paris.
Winners included No. 3 Andy Murray, who played with his wedding ring tied to his shoe and improved to 11-0 since getting married, and defending women's champion Maria Sharapova.
She was jeered off Court Philippe Chatrier for skipping the customary post-match interview, citing a cold. Sharapova coughed repeatedly while getting past Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-4, and when asked later about not talking to the fans, she said their reaction was "absolutely normal ... but I've got to do what I have to do."