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Venus Williams makes earliest French Open exit in 17 years

Eric Feferberg, AFP | Venus Williams was outgunned by China's Wang Qiang at the French Open on Sunday.

The seven-time Grand Slam winner slumped to her earliest exit at Roland Garros since 2001, but it was a promising opener for the home crowd as Alizé Cornet dug deep to oust former finalist Sara Errani of Italy.


Twelve months after kicking off the French Open against Wang Qiang of China, Venus Williams faced the same opponent, in the same opening round, and on the same red dirt of Paris on Sunday – but the result was no déjà vu.

This time the veteran American slumped to a straight-sets defeat, 6-4, 7-5, in the first big upset of the tournament. Clay was never a favourite surface for the 2002 runner-up, but Williams hadn’t lost an opening round here since 2001.

If Sunday's result marked a low point for the 7-time Grand Slam winner, it marked a career high for 26-year-old Wang, who was beaten by Williams both here and at Wimbledon in their only previous meetings.

Ranked 91 in the world, the Chinese player set about her task with enthusiasm on a sun-bathed Court Suzanne Lenglen, firing shot after shot onto the lines and never allowing her languid opponent to settle.

Unfazed by the baking heat, Wang never took a backward step, eventually sealing the opening in the 10th game with a drive-volley that left the number nine seed wrong-footed.

Williams, 37, battled her way back into a 3-0 lead in the second set, but her Chinese opponent began taking the ball earlier and striking it with more purpose and was soon level again.

When in the 11th game the American double-faulted a fourth time, and hit a 35th unforced error, Wang seized her chance to wrap up a remarkable win.

Roland Garros hasn’t seen the last of Williams, who will resume her partnership with sister Serena in the doubles tournament, before moving on to the more familiar grass of Wimbledon.

Cornet comeback

Earlier in the day, the raucous Paris crowd helped Alize Cornet recover from a set down to defeat Italy’s Sara Errani 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a show of powerful baseline hitting.

"The crowd gave me so much energy. It was crazy out there," said a smiling Cornet after the grueling match, which came just two weeks after she was cleared of an anti-doping violation.

The centerpiece Pillippe Chatrier court wasn’t always behind the Frenchwoman, though. There were more boos than cheers in the first set when a wayward Cornet struggled to find her range and vented her frustration at a ball boy.

The former Roland Garros junior champion picked herself up in the second set, dictating the match from the back of the court with her powerful backhand and rousing the crowd from its post-lunch slumber.

Cornet dominated the third set, serving up a mix of baseline drives and deft drop shots. But as she closed in on her win, her heavily-strapped left thigh showed signs of troubling her and twice in a serving game she fell to her knee.

True to form, the 32-seed squandered several match points in the deciding set, first with a double fault and then a run of overcooked shots from the back, until Errani netted the ball to hand Cornet victory.

Zverev in a hurry

There was more good news for the home fans in the men’s draw, where French teenage sensation Corentin Moutet toppled Croatian giant Ivo Karlovic, who is 20 years his senior – and a full 36 centimetres taller.

The big-serving Croatian produced 26 aces, but his young opponent took his chances when it mattered, sealing his first French Open win in straight sets, 7-6 (9/7), 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).

In the day’s all-French battle, Gael Monfils started shakily against another 19-year-old, Elliot Benchetrit, eventually prevailing in four sets, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.

Meanwhile, 15th seed Lucas Pouille, France’s highest-ranking player, breezed past Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

In other matches, fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov powered past lucky loser Mohamed Safwat of Egypt in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6, but there was disappointment for Australia's Nick Kyrgios, who was forced to withdraw with an elbow injury.

And with title holder Rafael Nadal yet to enter the fray, second seed Alexander Zverev got his title bid off to the perfect start with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 drubbing of Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, storming to victory in just 70 minutes.


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