x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Wimbledon: Li and Stosur through, Venus crashes out

Li Na and Samantha Stosur successfully navigated their way through to the second round, but five-time champion Venus Williams suffered an early exit.

Li Na, the No 11 seed, won her opening match 6-3, 6-1 in 65 minutes. Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA
Li Na, the No 11 seed, won her opening match 6-3, 6-1 in 65 minutes. Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA

The grand slam winners Li Na and Samantha Stosur made bright starts, and Venus Williams gave a defiant performance on the opening day of Wimbledon. But, unfortunately for the veteran American, it came in the news conference room rather than on court.

Also, the French Open champion and world No 1 Maria Sharapova picked up where she left off at Roland Garros, cruising into the second round by beating Anastasia Rodionova of Australia 6-2, 6-3.

In the last match on the No 1 Court Kim Clijsters defeated the No 18 seed Jelena Jankovic, 6-2, 6-4.

Earlier, Williams, the five-time Wimbledon champion, who heads sister Serena by one title on that score, lost in the opening round of her favourite grand slam for the first time since 1997, her debut year at the Championships.

Venus, 32, lost in straight sets to the Russian Elena Vesnina, who claimed a decisive 6-1, 6-3 success on Court Two. Williams's only previous experience of a first-round singles loss at Wimbledon came as a 17 year old, 15 years ago, when she was defeated by the Polish player Magdalena Grzybowska, who was a year away from her career-high ranking of No 30.

Vesnina could hardly believe her achievement; the 25 year old danced a jig and was all smiles after securing a second-round clash with the No 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

Attention soon turned to whether it would be the last time Williams plays a Wimbledon campaign. She has had major health problems over the past year in the form of Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can leave her weak and tired.

She was coy at first, responding to initial questioning about whether she would be seen again on the grass courts of SW19, by saying: "Yeah, at the Olympics you'll see me here."

A third Olympic gold in the doubles with Serena later this summer would offer a sweet occasion on which to retire, but Venus is adamant she will be back playing at Wimbledon next year.

"I'm planning on it," she said.

Then came a question enquiring what would drive her on after the Olympics, ending in the reporter suggesting Williams is "struggling".

"Am I struggling?" Williams replied. "Am I? I don't know. Tell me what the struggle is. I just want you to be clear. If you say I'm struggling, tell me how I should do better. I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player. Unfortunately, I had to deal with circumstances that people don't normally have to deal with in this sport."

Li, who won the French Open last year, crushed the Kazakhstan player Ksenia Pervak in the first match on Court 12. Li, 30 and the No 11 seed, came through 6-3, 6-1 in 65 minutes.

Stosur, seeded fifth and the reigning US Open champion, also had a straightforward route through to the second round as she opened proceedings on Court Three.

The 28-year-old Australian beat Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3 in a 62 minutes. Radwanska, still searching for a first major title, is seeded third this year and was too strong for Magdalena Rybarikova on Court Two winning 6-3, 6-3 .

* Agencies

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