Venus Williams reacts in her first-round match against Ekaterina Makarova of Russia during today's first round of the Australian Open. (Matt King / Getty Images)
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.
“The last 12 months I have had issues, but this year I definitely am looking forward to having a good run and feeling well.”
That didn’t happen Monday.
“My level was a little bit too up and down. Obviously my error count was a little high,” Williams said. “I have to give her a lot of credit, though, she was very determined, played hard.”
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.”
Makarova will meet another American in the second round after qualifier Irina Falconi beat Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain 6-3, 6-1.
Two-time finalist Li Na beating Ana Konjuh of Croatia — the youngest player in the tournament — 6-2, 6-0 in 61 minutes to set up a meeting with another 16-year-old in the next round after Belinda Bencic of Switzerland accounted for 43-year-old Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm in three sets. Date-Krumm was 27 years older than Bencic, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon junior champion.
The 2011 French Open champion, who lost finals at Melbourne Park to Victoria Azarenka last year and Kim Clijsters in 2011, says the Australian Open “is my favorite Grand Slam.” She’s in the same half of the draw as No. 1-ranked Serena Williams, who was scheduled to play a night match against Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty.
Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens was the first woman into the second round when she beat Britain’s Laura Robson 6-3, 6-0. No. 9 Angelique Kerber, No. 28 Flavia Pennetta and No. 31 Daniela Hantuchova also went through.
Eighth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who won the recent Chennai Open in India, was the first man into the next round, advancing after just 15 games when Andrey Golubev retired with an injured left leg.
Wawrinka, who lost 12-10 in the fifth set to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round here last year in the longest Grand Slam match of 2013, was leading 6-4, 6-1 when his Kazakhstan rival quit.
Third-ranked David Ferrer opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez on Rod Laver Arena.
Other men advancing included No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 32 Ivan Dodig, who beat fellow Croatian Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (8), 6-3, 7-6 (4), and American Sam Querry, who defeated Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
“To win this match, in a tiebreak in the fourth set, gives me a ton of confidence,” said Querry, who had 47 winners and 24 aces.