Williams beaten in second round

Posted: Friday, June 25, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England With all her injuries and mediocre play of late, the last thing Venus Williams needed was for her opponent to be awarded an extra point.

That's precisely what happened Thursday in the second round at Wimbledon, and Williams lost to Karolina Sprem 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), the 2000-01 champion's earliest exit at the All England Club since 1997.

In a stunning officiating error at tennis' most hallowed ground, chair umpire Ted Watts awarded the 30th-ranked Sprem a point she didn't earn in the final tiebreaker.

And no one spoke up: not Williams, not Sprem, not the other on-court officials.

''I'd like to think he didn't do it on purpose,'' said Williams, who hasn't been past the quarterfinals at a major since losing to younger sister Serena in a second straight Wimbledon final last year. ''I don't think one call makes a match. I had some opportunities there, and it's unfortunate, but I'll learn from it.''

Even after the scoring mistake made it 2-2 in the final tiebreaker, Williams built a 6-3 edge then lost five straight points, mostly on miscues. She wasted two set points in the opening tiebreaker.

''Unfortunately, the way it happened, Venus didn't query it at the time,'' tournament referee Alan Mills said. ''They played point after point afterward, and the result, I'm afraid, stands as is.''

Both Sprem, a 19-year-old Croatian who lost four straight Grand Slam matches before this week and owns zero tour titles, and Williams appeared confused.

''Sometimes I do lose track of the score, and I just felt that maybe I had lost track again,'' said Williams, 26-0 against everyone but her sister here since 2000.

It's been some time since she dominated the way she did while winning four majors and rising to No. 1 or while playing Serena in five of six Slam finals. What's tough to tell is how much is a drop in her play or an improvement by others.

Williams missed six months with an abdominal strain, then twisted an ankle while beating Sprem at the German Open in May. She also had to come to terms with the shooting death of half-sister Yetunde in September.

''Sometimes you don't always win,'' the eighth-ranked Williams said. ''So I just feel like I'm going to find out what went wrong, what didn't go right.''

Asked if she'll watch a tape of the match to figure out what happened on the scoring foul-up, Williams said: ''Guess I should, huh?''

Actually, all of the day's action could be packaged as a video. No matches were played Wednesday, the tournament's first total rainout since 1999, so Thursday featured more than a dozen major champions.

There were two brief rain delays what else is new? while swirling wind played havoc with balls and sent silverware clattering in the club members' outdoor restaurant overlooking courts.

Some highlights:

Martina Navratilova's first Wimbledon singles competition in 10 years ended with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Gisela Dulko, who beat her at the French Open last month.

Goran Ivanisevic rallied to defeat Filippo Volandri 4-6, 7-6 (8), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, then celebrated by tossing his shirt and racket into the stands. Ivanisevic, who hadn't been to Wimbledon since winning it in 2001 and is retiring after the tournament, plays 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt next.

Defending champion Roger Federer and past Slam winners Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Anastasia Myskina, Carlos Moya, and Juan Carlos Ferrero (who saved two match points) won. Mary Pierce, Conchita Martinez and Albert Costa (against 479th-ranked Mark Hilton) lost.

French Open finalist Guillermo Coria needed 1 minute, 40 seconds to win the two points that finally ended his rain-interrupted, five-set victory over Wesley Moodie. The match concluded 66 hours, 10 minutes after it began Monday.

Dmitry Tursunov followed up his upset of Marat Safin by beating Sargis Sargsian 15-13 in the fifth set.

For all the excitement and oddities across the 19 courts, nothing could top Williams-Sprem. Sprem confidently matched Williams' power stroke-for-stroke from the baseline, returned impressively, and hit serves at up to 119 mph.

''It's impossible to be a winner or finalist every year,'' Williams said, her voice cracking. ''She played some good tennis.''

Williams reacted to lost points by covering her mouth or putting a hand on her forehead, as if wondering, ''What's going on?''

But with Sprem serving for the match at 5-3, 30-love, Williams regrouped to win 10 straight points, leading to the tiebreaker.

Williams led 2-1 when Sprem hit a first serve ruled wide by the line judge, who put her arm out and shouted, ''Fault!'' Williams casually hit the ball over the net, and Sprem smacked a backhand into the open court. Williams stood still at the baseline, figuring it was time for a second serve.

But Watts announced the score as 2-2, the sort of mistake that occurs every so often but generally is corrected right away.

''I don't like seeing an error of that magnitude on Centre Court at the All England Club. Maybe at a $25,000 event,'' said two-time U.S. Open champion Tracy Austin, who called the match for the BBC. ''It's unfortunate for both players. If you're Sprem, you don't want controversy associated with the biggest win of your career.''

With the players apparently unaware Sprem received a point she shouldn't have, they lined up again in the same positions for what both thought was a second serve. Indeed, Sprem put a safe, 86 mph offering in, and Williams laced a backhand return winner. That should have made it 3-1 for Williams, but Watts called it 3-2.

''I didn't think about it. I was 100 percent in the match,'' Sprem said.

After double-faulting to make it 6-3, Sprem erased Williams' first set point with a forehand passing shot. Williams wasted the other two with a double-fault and a forehand error, shrieking as the ball slapped the net to make it 6-6. Sprem went up 7-6 when Williams' awkward volley hit the net tape and dropped back on her side. The match ended on the next point, when Williams sailed a forehand long.

Asked if Williams' status has dropped, the confident Sprem laughed and responded: ''Why you say this? Because I beat her?''



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