RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – When Venus Williams pushed one last forehand long to lose in the first round for the first time in her record five Olympic singles tournaments, her opponent celebrated as if having claimed a gold medal, dropping down on the green hard court to plant a kiss on the white five-ring logo.
This was clearly a very big deal to Kirsten Flipkens, a Belgian ranked 62nd and only once as far as the semifinals at a Grand Slam event.
Just two points away from winning on four occasions while portions of the crowd turned hostile toward her, the 36-year-old Williams faded as Saturday night’s match stretched past 3 hours and she was stunned 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) by Flipkens on Day 1 of tennis at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Afterward, Williams did not speak to reporters. Instead, US women’s tennis coach Mary Joe Fernandez did, saying that Williams was sick before arriving in Brazil. Fernandez added that Williams had cramping, dehydration and an upset stomach after her loss, but still hoped to play doubles Sunday with younger sister Serena.
“I would be highly surprised if she didn’t play, because this has been her goal for the last four years – to come back to the Olympics,’’ Fernandez said. “She wants to win a medal so badly in anything. Knowing Venus, she will be out there, no matter how badly she’s feeling.’’
Williams owns four gold medals: one in singles and three in doubles. She owns 21 Grand Slam titles: seven in singles, 14 in doubles. But she labored at times Saturday and even showed frustration by shouting “Ridiculous!’’ after dropping one point.
With US Secretary of State John Kerry watching from a second-row seat behind a baseline, the fifth-seeded Williams wasted a 4-1 lead in the final set and was broken while serving for the victory at 5-3.