melbourne, Australia — For Venus Williams, a win in reach instead became another frustratingly early loss at a major tournament.
Williams held a 3-0 lead in the third set, before dropping the next five games in a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat against Ekaterina Makarova on margaret court Arena, the tournament’s third-largest venue, Monday afternoon, the tournament’s opening day.
It was only the second time Williams had lost in the first round of the Australian Open in 14 appearances. The previous first-round defeat came in 2006, a stunning loss to Tsvetana Pironkova, who was ranked 94th that year with Williams seeded 10th at the tournament.
That this loss was not an upset on paper reflected Williams’s recent struggles with back injury, fatigue, and simple inconsistency. Williams has not made it past the third round of a Grand Slam event since she did so at Wimbledon in 2011.
Narrowly missing being seeded with her ranking of 37th, Williams drew the 22nd-seeded Makarova in the first round. Makarova, a powerful left-hander, has reached the quarterfinals here each of the past two years, beating Serena Williams in the fourth round in 2012.
It looked as if Venus Williams would be able to avenge that loss for much of Monday’s match, having a break point to take what would have been a commanding 4-2 lead in the second set. But Makarova held, and at 4-4 Williams disastrously ended a service game with three straight double faults.
Though she reached the final at her first tournament of the year in Auckland, Williams said her ups and downs in this match could be attributed to a lack of match play over the past year.
“I do play points really well, and then sometimes I don’t put them together as well,” she said. “I feel like I have to be patient with myself because I really haven’t had a chance to play that consistently.”
Wistful but defiant when questions hinted that her health might soon force her to retire, the 33-year-old Williams kept the door open for another run in Australia.
“I love Australia,” she said. “I’d love to come back.”
Williams will at least remain in Melbourne for a while longer, as she and Serena Williams are entered in doubles.
Also making an early exit Monday was the British teenager Laura Robson, who is still struggling with a left wrist injury that forced her to withdraw from both of her lead-up tournaments. She was the first player knocked out of the tournament, falling, 6-3, 6-0, to the recent Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens in 50 minutes.
Irina Falconi was the first American woman to win, beating the slumping Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain, 6-3, 6-1. Falconi lost in the final round of the qualifying tournament but slipped into the draw as a lucky loser when fellow her American Jamie Hampton withdrew because of a hip injury.
Sam Querrey, the second-highest ranked American man in the tournament, survived a midmatch letdown to beat Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
LI EASILY MOVES ON Li Na beat Ana Konjuh of Croatia, who at 16 is the youngest player in the tournament, by 6-2, 6-0. That set up a meeting for Li with another 16-year-old, as Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the reigning French Open and Wimbledon junior champion, defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm, a 43-year-old Japanese veteran, in three sets. (AP)