MELBOURNE, Australia – Just as she was starting to show glimpses of returning to form, Venus Williams was let down by her serve and her concentration at crucial times and lost 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova on Day One of the Australian Open.
The No. 22-seeded Makarova upset Serena Williams in the fourth round here in 2012, but was comprehensively outplayed in the first set against the elder of the Williams sisters on Monday, dropping serve three times.
Williams had chances in the second set, too, missing a break-point opportunity to go up 4-2, and then serving three consecutive double-faults after leading the ninth game 40-30 to surrender a crucial break.
The 33-year-old Williams, the second-oldest player in the tournament and seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, took some time out after the second set to change her zebra-striped dress and came back strongly, taking a 3-0 lead. But Makarova rallied again and Williams’ error count rose – she had 21 of her 56 unforced errors in the deciding set.
She has struggled with injuries and illness in recent seasons but reached the final of the WTA event at Auckland to open the year and said after arriving at Melbourne Park that she was feeling better than she had in years.
It was only the second time in 14 appearances that Williams lost in the first round at the Australian Open, where her best run remains a loss to her sister in the 2003 final.
“It was a really tough match to play someone like Venus in the first round, she is such a great player,” Makarova said. “At 3-0 down (in the final set), I decided I had to fight for every point. I just kept fighting and I turned around the match.”