A familiar antagonist put an abrupt end to Venus Williams’ 23rd appearance at Roland-Garros on opening day, as Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, the world No.161, handed the 40-year-old American a 6-4, 6-4 setback on Court Simonne-Mathieu.
Venus crashes out as Schmiedlova snaps slam losing run
Slovakian earns a long-awaited triumph at the majors to reach Roland-Garros second round
Unseeded Williams, who also fell to Schmiedlova in a second-round meeting at Roland-Garros in 2014, drops to 72-15 lifetime in Grand Slam first-round matches. The seven-time major champion has now suffered six first-round defeats on Parisian clay, with five of those coming since 2013.
The other side of the coin looks much brighter for Schmiedlova, a talented clay-courter and a former world No.26 who is on the mend from a 2019 knee surgery. She ends a brutal run of 13 straight losses in Grand Slam main draws and earns her first win at a major since the 2015 US Open.
How much does it mean?
"A lot," said the 26-year-old. "Because it's been a really long time, I don't know how long but yeah, I'm very happy.”
Last year in Paris, Schmiedlova turned heads when she threatened to knock off Naomi Osaka in the first round. The Slovakian took the opening set 6-0 from the top seed, and would go on to serve for the match twice before tumbling to her fourth consecutive Roland-Garros defeat. She admitted that the near-miss was on her mind this week, but added that she felt unencumbered during the match.
“Not really today, but a few days ago I thought about it because it was a really great match last year," Schmiedlova said. "I always play really good here but I don't usually close it and I don't win many times, but I was just enjoying my match today."
Williams, who was runner-up to her sister Serena at Roland-Garros in 2002, has not advanced past the round of 16 in her last 13 visits to Paris.
"It's been a very long year of quarantine," the American said. "Now I'll get to rest. So I'm looking forward to that."
It was a tense opening set in heavy, damp conditions that could have gone either way, but Williams’ undoing came late as she squandered a 4-2 lead, dropping the final four games to drop behind 6-4.
The trademark Williams courage was there until the end, however. The American legend fell behind by a double-break in set two but rallied with a break of her own and then held serve for 3-4. She then saved a pair of match points two games later to hold for 4-5.
“She played really, really well, I thought," Williams told reporters after the match. "Not a lot of errors. Even on my really good shots she had a lot of amazing replies that just came out of nowhere. Give her credit for playing an amazing match."
In the following game Schmiedlova held her nerve and pummeled a forehand winner down-the-line to close out the victory in two hours and six minutes.
After the match, Schmiedlova said her victory was even sweeter because it came against a legendary figure like Williams.
"It's always difficult for me to play against her," she said. "I'm very happy but still I appreciate all of her successes and her career. She's an incredible player and I will always respect her, and playing against her is always very challenging. I just tried to enjoy it and play my best game and it worked today."