PARIS — Maybe it was the daunting deficit Serena Williams faced in the French Open’s third round. Maybe it was the way her 20-year-old American opponent, Sofia Kenin, was questioning line calls.
Either way, as Williams attempted to start a comeback Saturday with a three-ace game, she followed those big serves with some serious staredowns.
Whether it was meant to get herself going or intimidate Kenin, it didn’t work. Outplayed from start to finish, Williams lost 6-2, 7-5 to the 35th-ranked Kenin, ending Williams’ latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam title with her earliest loss at a major tournament in five years.
“In that first set in particular, she hit pretty much inches from the line, and I haven’t played anyone like that in a long time,” Williams, 37, said. “I just saw a player that was playing unbelievable.”
It was the second significant surprise in a matter of hours: Earlier in the day, No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka was eliminated 6-4, 6-2 by 42nd-ranked Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic. That ended Osaka’s 16-match Grand Slam winning streak, which included titles at the U.S. Open final in September — when she beat Williams in the final — and at the Australian Open in January.
Osaka was trying to become the first woman to win three consecutive major trophies since Williams grabbed four in a row in 2014-15, a run that was preceded by a second-round loss at Roland Garros and a third-round loss at Wimbledon.
Photo: Christophe Ena / Associated Press
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“It’s weird, but I think me losing is probably the best thing that could have happened,” Osaka said. “I think I was overthinking this calendar Slam. For me, this is something that I have wanted to do forever.”
Williams is stuck on a professional-era record of 23 Grand Slam singles championships. She remains one away from Margaret Court’s mark for the most in tennis history; Court played in both the professional and amateur eras.
“Serena is such a tough player. I’m still trying to process what just happened,” Kenin said. “She’s a true champion and an inspiration.”
Kenin was born in Moscow and is fluent in Russian. Her family moved to New York when she was a baby, and she now is based in Florida.
“I’m proud to be an American,” said Kenin, who wore a blue U.S. Fed Cup cap to her news conference. “I think it’s great we moved to America for a better life for me.”
Howard Fendrich is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Serena-Williams-bids-early-adieu-at-French-Open-13916355.php.