- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2012

NEW YORK — At a U.S. Open that will be remembered for goodbyes by Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters, another former No. 1 and Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams, left with a spirited second-round loss that felt nothing like a farewell.

Hours after Roddick chose the occasion of his 30th birthday to let the tennis world in on a little secret he’d been keeping — he’ll retire after his run at Flushing Meadows ends — Williams served poorly and stumbled badly for a set and a half before recovering to make things quite competitive.

Williams came within two points of winning, but dropped five of the last six games and ended up exiting early at a tournament she’s won twice, beaten 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 by sixth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany in a nearly 3-hour match that ended at 12:19 a.m. as Thursday turned to Friday.

Asked afterward if she’s ready to join Roddick in retirement, Williams replied: “No, because if I could have made two more shots, I probably could have won that match. I think there’s a big difference for me because I’m beating myself. I’m not getting destroyed out there. … If I was out there and people were killing me, maybe it’s time to hang it up.”

A year ago at the U.S. Open, Williams didn’t get the chance to play at all in the second round, withdrawing hours before the match and announcing she had Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue.

This time, buoyed by chants of “Let’s go, Venus!” in a mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium — perhaps spectators figured in the second set that Kerber was on her way to a swift victory — Williams found the resolve and energy to put aside her 16 double-faults and 60 total unforced errors and help produce as entertaining a contest as the arena has hosted this week.

“I know this is not proper tennis etiquette, but this is the first time I’ve ever played here that the crowd has been behind me like that. Today I felt American, you know, for the first time at the U.S. Open,” Williams said. “So I’ve waited my whole career to have this moment and here it is.”

At changeovers in the third set, trying to concentrate on her coach’s game plan, Kerber draped a white towel over her head, looking a bit like a little kid dressing as a ghost for Halloween. She would lift the towel’s edge every so often so she could tuck a water bottle underneath and take a sip.

Venus is such a great player. … Everybody was against me,” Kerber said, referring to the crowd, “but it doesn’t matter.”

It all came a day after four-time major champion Clijsters, who is 29, played the final singles match of her career, and while the 32-year-old Williams never has uttered a word indicating she’s thinking about leaving the sport, she is no longer the player she once was.

“Obviously, being on the losing end of a match like this isn’t a lot of fun,” Williams said. “Today all I had was fight, because I didn’t play well.”

In addition to her 2000 and 2001 trophies from the U.S. Open, and five titles from Wimbledon, Williams was the runner-up at major tournaments seven times. In 16 years of Grand Slam action, since her debut in 1997, Williams had never gone through an entire season without making at least one fourth-round appearance at a major.

Until 2012, when she never even made the third round once. She missed the Australian Open while still working her way back onto the tour, then lost in the second round at the French Open and the first round at Wimbledon.

For so long the owner of one of the most feared serves on the women’s tour — surpassed only, perhaps, by her younger sister Serena’s — Williams took quite a while to get going against Kerber, who was a semifinalist in New York last year. Williams was broken each of the first five times she served and nine times overall.

“It’s been a long time; I usually don’t have that many breaks,” Williams said.

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