Tennis

Venus loses third-set tiebreaker

Venus Williams
Venus Williams returns a shot to Zheng Jie during the second round.
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NEW YORK (AP)

After her latest early Grand Slam exit, Venus Williams was asked what the future holds for her at the US Open.

In one breath, Williams brushed aside the unspoken reference to retirement, saying, ''I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere.''

And in the next, she added, ''I mean, next year's Open is so far away right now.''

At 33, slowed the past couple of years by an autoimmune disease that saps energy, and hampered much of this season by a bad back, Williams knows by now that such queries are going to arrive, particularly after results such as her 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) loss to 56th-ranked Zheng Jie of China on a wet Wednesday at Flushing Meadows. It is the third year in a row that the two-time champion is out of the US Open after two rounds.

''If I didn't think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn't be here,'' said Williams, who was ranked No. 1 in 2002 and is currently 60th. ''I feel like I do, and that's why I'm here.''

The American acquitted herself well for stretches, erasing deficits over and over again, until she simply ran out of solutions against Zheng, a former top-15 player and twice a major semifinalist.

In what she took as an encouraging sign, Williams was out there for 3 hours, 2 minutes, tying for the fifth-longest women's match since 1970 at the US Open. The third set alone lasted 11/2 hours.

Near the finish line, she faltered. On the final two points, Williams missed a volley, then a return. She wound up with 44 unforced errors in all, half on forehands, in part because Zheng kept scrambling along the baseline to get to balls and block them back, making Williams hit extra shots.

Rain began falling in the early afternoon, jumbling the schedule, and eight women's singles matches were postponed entirely, including Williams' younger sister Serena against Galina Voskoboeva.

Venus Williams will have to contend herself now with doubles, which she's playing her with her sister.

The older Williams hasn't been ranked in the top 10 in 2-1/2 years. The last time she made it beyond the third round of singles at a major tournament was a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon in 2011.

At the 2011 US Open, Williams withdrew before her second-round match, announcing she had Sjogren's syndrome, an illness that causes joint pain and fatigue.

She lost a three-setter in the second round in New York last year.

Two of her previous four trips to major tournaments ended in the first round, including at the French Open in May. Because of her back, Williams sat out Wimbledon for the only time in her career in June.

But she is not ready to say goodbye.

''I've had a tough set of circumstances to work through, too, especially this year, last year, and the year before. I've been dealt some cards that aren't as easy to deal with, but I have to play with them. The last few months haven't been easy, coming back from the back injury,'' Williams said.

''I feel like it's definitely affected my game, but I'm working on it. I'm a fighter.''

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