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'Dead' Williams looking for time away from tennis

ESPN staff
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Serena Williams, a champion at the Miami Masters just three days ago, was beaten in straight sets © Getty Images
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Serena Williams said she is feeling "dead" after being knocked out of the Family Circle Cup by world No.78 Jana Cepelova.

Top-ranked Williams, winner of the Charleston for the past two years and a champion at the Miami Masters on Saturday, was ousted at the first attempt by the 20-year-old Slovakian 6-4 6-4.

And the American admitted after the match that she needed a break.

"I'm really just dead," she told reporters. "I need some weeks off where I don't think about tennis and kind of regroup.

"I've had a long couple of years, and I'm really a little fatigued."

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Williams found herself down 0-5 after just 18 minutes on the green clay at the Family Circle Tennis Center. She rallied, winning four straight games surrendering only six points, and it looked like Cepelova's lead would be short-lived. But Cepelova came back and, holding serve in the final game, was able to win the set.

Williams said later she feels emotionally and physically spent.

"Definitely a little bit of both. But again, I think Jana played really well for her today," she said. "The good thing is I know I can play a lot better. So it's always really positive for me."

Cepelova's run out to a quick lead silenced the crowd, which was in the defending champion's corner.

"I have 5-0 and I was a little bit nervous, but I did it," Cepelova said. "You know, you play against No.1 player and you never know. It was a tough situation for me, but I'm really happy that I keep the set."

There was better news for sister Venus Williams, however, who edged Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-3 0-6 7-5 despite battling illness.

"I've actually been pretty sick lately - I've been having like a bug," the elder Williams sibling said after the match which lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes.

"You just have to play your way into the week and just continue to feel better."

I've had a long couple of years, and I'm really a little fatigued. I need some weeks off where I don't think about tennis and kind of regroup

Williams, a seven-time grand slam champion, has battled injuries and Sjogren's syndrome, a fatigue-causing autoimmune disease, during the past two years.

"I haven't gotten rid of it. I wish I could have. Unfortunately it just clings to me," she said. "I've just learned to handle it mentally and also I try to do things all the time, just always going for optimal health."

Williams seemed in control of the match after she won the first set, surrendering only two points in her last two service games.

But the 56th-ranked Zahlavova Strycova rattled off seven straight games to shut out the 28th-ranked Williams in the second set and go up 1-0 in the third.

Williams rallied for a 5-4 lead in the third set, but Zahlavova Strycova fought off four match points to tie it at five-all. Williams then earned a break in the next game - helped by a final point double-fault - and held at love to win the match.

Williams staved off what could have been her earliest exit at Charleston. She's making her seventh appearance at the tournament she won a decade ago. Williams, who won the Dubai title this year, said she didn't get down on herself after dropping the second set.

"My gosh, if you are careful and you don't play almost perfectly, every single player is so talented out here that you can drop a set or the match," Williams said. "So it's stay focused, really believing in yourself and taking some chances and making your shots."

Elsewhere, ninth-seed Lucie Safarova also needed three sets to beat Virginie Razzano 2-6 6-4 6-4, as did Vania King who edged Julia Glushko 4-6 7-5 6-3.

Daniela Hantuchova defeated wild card Shelby Rogers 7-5 7-5, while 13th-seed Elena Vesnina cruised past Anna Schmiedlova 6-2 6-1. Shuai Zhang outlasted Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(0).

In other matches, No.14 seed Andrea Petkovic eliminated Lesia Tsurenko 6-7(2) 6-4 6-1, and Lourdes Dominguez Lino defeated fellow Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3 6-2. Peng Shuai defeated Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3.

Young Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, seeded No.6, dispatched qualifier Alla Kudryavtseva 6-2 6-0 while seventh-seed Samantha Stosur beat Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3 5-7 6-1.

Eight-seed Sorana Cirstea was shocked 3-6 6-3 7-6(0) by Brazil's Teliana Pereira.

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