An unhappy 'first' for Venus Williams this season

PARIS -- As tennis holds its collective breath awaiting Serena Williams' comeback form on clay, one question has been answered. She will be the only Williams sister remaining in the French Open singles draw.

Venus Williams, at 37, the oldest woman entered here, is at a juncture where every Grand Slam event is a potential milestone. In this, her 21st appearance at Roland Garros, she chalked up an unwelcome one: her first-ever back-to-back opening round losses in majors. It has been a remarkable run, but that didn't make Sunday's 6-4, 7-5 loss to China's Qiang Wang any easier to accept.

"I mean, nobody plans on this," said Williams, who entered the interview room shouldering her racket bag, clearly eager to leave the luggage of the moment behind. "At this point, I need to look forward."

The consecutive early exits interrupt the momentum Williams gained last season in a late-career surge that saw her reach the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals and the US Open semifinal. She had advanced to the fourth round in Paris the past two years running, but managed only one win on clay in the 2018 lead-up.

She was uninterested in parsing how she might have adjusted differently during the match -- "I think 'differently' is win the point," she said -- and who can blame her? Two decades on tour have wiped out the relevance of could-have-beens. Williams' mere presence on court indicates she is still motivated to excel. She'd like everyone to take that at face value and leave the details to her.

Wang is 85th in this week's newly refreshed WTA rankings and told reporters she didn't expect to beat the ninth-seeded Williams. It was just her second career victory over a top-10 player, yet the upset wasn't a complete shock. The 26-year-old drew Williams twice last season and played valiantly both times, taking Williams to a tiebreaker in the first round in Paris and extending her to three sets in the second round at Wimbledon.

Plagued by unforced errors, Williams seemed to regain her equilibrium in the second set, going up 3-0 largely on the strength of her fierce backhand. But Wang, after speaking to a roomful of Chinese reporters hanging on her every word, said she found a way to build on the two previous matches and played more assertively rather than waiting for her famous opponent to miss.

She's logged little time on clay but said the surface "suits me. It's slow. I can slide. I moved really good."

Williams isn't slipping out of Paris for the emerald pastures of the grass-court season quite yet. She and her sister will team up in doubles as a wild-card entry after a two-year hiatus from the majors. Venus has played sparingly in Serena's absence, skipping doubles all together last season, reuniting for Fed Cup in February and taking a flyer with Madison Keys in Rome last week, where they went 1-1.

"I'm hoping that we'll get out there and kind of just start where we left off," Venus said.

That would be at the top, as she and Serena won the 2016 Wimbledon championship, their 14th Grand Slam title.