TENNIS

After a promising start, Venus Williams falls in the first game in single return

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For a memorable set Monday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the Citi Open, Venus Williams seemed to have rediscovered her former dominance.

Battling the lingering heat and humidity of the Washington, D.C. evening β€” and Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino through the net β€” Williams chased every ball and staged a clinic with her power and grit. It was hard to believe that this was his first competitive singles match in nearly a year.

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And then reality, and Williams’ 42 years, suddenly seemed to catch up with her. She was tired and slow in the second set, and she had few answers for Marino’s solid serve. Williams also struggled on her own service games, recording three straight double faults late in the set.

But Williams’ signature tenacity remains very much intact, and she dug deep and found another level at the start of the decider. She took a 4-1 lead and a victory seemed almost certain.

This was not to be the case. Marino, the world No. 111, stormed back, winning the next five games and ultimately the game 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The Williams comeback fairy tale was over before it had really begun.

“I didn’t think I played well most of the time,” Williams said after the game. “I’m just trying to get rid of the rust. It’s normal. All I can do is play another tournament and play better.

A win on Monday, and perhaps an even more substantial run this week, would have been the legendary final moment in a career full of them. The seven-time major champion and former world No. 1 hadn’t played a singles match since the Chicago Women’s Open in August 2021, when she lost in the first round in straight sets to Su-Wei Hsieh.

Currently unranked due to lack of recent activity, Williams has been granted a wild card to play at the Citi Open. She called playing the tournament a “homecoming” in a statement, as she had played for the Washington World Tennis Team for nine seasons.

It would have been the perfect place to triumphantly launch his latest comeback.

His prolonged absence from the competition, in addition to his lackluster results in recent years (Williams has won just four matches since the start of 2020) sparked rampant retirement rumors earlier this season. But Williams surprised fans with his return to the mixed doubles court at Wimbledon earlier this summer teaming up with Jamie Murray. The duo – who were immediate fan favorites on the All England Club ground – reached the round of 16 before falling to Alicia Barnett and Jonny O’Mara in an epic clash that ended in a break. Tied 18-16 in the deciding set. .

Williams had no plans to play Wimbledon when she arrived in London, but said she was inspired by the return of her sister Serena and that she “saw the grass” and “was excited”. She and Murray received a late invitation to participate in the event. Perhaps rejuvenated by her time at that tournament, Williams was then given the wild card to play singles in Washington as well as the upcoming 1000 level tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati. Williams will need a wild card to play in the US Open, which begins August 29, but she is expected to receive one for the final major of the year.

Williams will have two more opportunities to prepare for New York over the next few weeks, and there are certainly aspects of her Monday game against Marino that she can feel good about as she heads north of the border.

The future beyond New York remains much murkier. Williams gave some hints about her plans in the sport and was particularly tight-lipped when it came to questions about her touring status. Speculation about her inevitable retirement will likely continue, especially if she is unable to register a win in any of the preliminary events ahead of the US Open.

Still, as she showed for flashes on Monday, she may not be done yet. Williams spoke at length about her love for the game and competition, and she cited that as her main motivation for continuing at this point. As evidenced by the cheering crowds in the nation’s capital, tennis will be happy to have him for as long as possible.

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