- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

PARIS | Out of breath and out of sorts, Venus Williams played her way right out of the French Open with her most lopsided Grand Slam loss since 2001.

That the No. 3-seeded Williams would exit in the third round at Roland Garros is not quite so extraordinary, perhaps, considering she has left this particular Grand Slam tournament at this stage in four of the past five years.

That Williams would lose the way she did - 6-0, 6-4 - and to the player she did - 29th-seeded Agnes Szavay, whose resume boasts a lone major quarterfinal appearance - was anything but ordinary Friday.

“I’m used to beating people 6-0. I’m not used to my shot not going in and losing a set 6-0,” Williams said. “So it completely was foreign ground for me.”

The red clay of Paris often feels that way to the older Williams sister, whose seven Grand Slam singles titles were earned at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Based on seeding and name, her departure qualifies as by far the tournament’s most significant.

Hours later, Maria Sharapova appeared headed in the same direction. Like Williams, Sharapova hasn’t won the French Open, and she, too, slogged through three sets in each of her first two matches this week, then looked awful at the start Friday.

But Sharapova, surgically repaired right shoulder and all, did what Williams couldn’t: pull herself together and move into the fourth round. Sharapova came back to beat 98th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

While Sharapova found herself in yet another two-hour-plus test, No. 1 Dinara Safina and defending champion Ana Ivanovic won easily. Four-time reigning champion Rafael Nadal made things look simple against former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, beating him 6-1, 6-3, 6-1, and No. 3 Andy Murray, No. 8 Fernando Verdasco, No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko and No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez also reached the fourth round.

“I dug a nice pothole for myself there. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing the last few rounds,” Sharapova said. “I don’t think she came up with great shots in order to win that first set. I honestly believe that I was making easy errors.”

Williams offered a similar assessment after finishing with more than twice as many unforced errors (23) as winners (10) against Szavay.

“She hung in there. She played really well, but I definitely have to attribute that loss to, you know, to me not being able to execute what I wanted to on the court,” Williams said. “It seemed every shot I tried, somehow it found a way to go out.”

It was the 14th time in 662 career matches that Williams was shut out in a set, and her only worse defeat in Grand Slam play was a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Martina Hingis in the 2001 Australian Open semifinals.

Later Friday, Williams teamed with sister Serena to reach the third round in doubles with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory against - guess who? - Szavay and Gisela Dulko.

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