PARIS – Used to be that Venus Williams was the one who was highly ranked, the one considered a title contender, the one who would dominate foes so thoroughly that matches would be tidily wrapped up in an hour.
Now 31 and figuring out from day to day how to handle an illness that saps her strength, Williams was on the wrong end of a lopsided 60-minute defeat in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday.
Looking glum and lacking the verve that carried her to seven Grand Slam titles, Williams barely put up any resistance in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 3-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
Coming a day after younger sister Serena was stunned in the first round by 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France, Venus Williams’ early exit marked the first time in 43 major tournaments with both in the field that neither Williams got to the third round.
“I felt like I played,” Williams said after making a hard-to-fathom 33 unforced errors, 27 more than Radwanska. “That pretty much sums it up.”
This one was not exactly an out-of-nowhere upset, considering that Williams is ranked 53rd now, and is learning how to be a professional athlete with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.
At changeovers, Williams would slink to the sideline, then sit on her green bench with hands clasped, staring straight ahead, expressionless and motionless.
She was far more animated afterward, laughing often while discussing her condition and graciously complimenting the play of Radwanska, a 23-year-old who is coming into her own this season.
“First of all, I have to say she played really well,” Williams said. “It’s important to put the ball in the court. She chased down a lot of balls. That’s what you have to do on this surface. Unfortunately, I wasn’t my best today.”
While never advancing past the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament, Radwanska has shown signs of being ready for a major breakthrough, with three lesser titles and a tour-high 38 victories in 2012. Of her seven losses, six were against No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka.
On an easy day for the top-seeded players, Azarenka breezed into the third round with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Dinah Pfizenmaier of Germany, while the No. 1 man, Novak Djokovic, extended his Grand Slam winning streak to 23 matches by beating Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia, 6-0, 6-4, 6-4.
“Being No. 1 is a difficult job, because everybody want to catch you, everybody want to move you from the spot,” said Azarenka, pushed to three sets in the first round. “Nothing is going to come easy just because you’re No. 1.”
Djokovic, aiming for his own bit of history by trying to win a fourth consecutive major to achieve a non-calendar Grand Slam, recovered from a lapse to defeat Kavcic.
The Serb, who now owns a 23-match Grand Slam win streak, admitted that he let his opponent back into the set after sweeping the first set.
“He wasn’t missing as many balls as in the first set, but I stopped, I gave him the opportunity to come back to the match after a perfect first set, first seven games.
“But this is tennis. Of course I didn’t underestimate my opponent today. I expected him to fight, I expected him to come back.
“He didn’t have anything to lose, and he showed his quality”
For years, Roger Federer managed to make things look easy at the top. Now No. 3, he went through a bit of a glitch and dropped a set Wednesday before earning his record-breaking 234th Grand Slam match victory, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3, against 92nd-ranked Adrian Ungur of Romania.
“I have been around for so long that, even though I expect myself to win, I can still manage to do that,” said Federer, on course for a semifinal showdown with Djokovic. “Whereas in the beginning, when you think you’re good but you’re maybe not that good yet, you get many more surprise losses.”
Before rain cut play short in the evening, all 10 seeded men whose matches ended won, including No. 9 Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion.
Four seeded women lost, including No. 8 Marion Bartoli of France.