PARIS — Grimacing after some poor shots, leaning forward with hands on knees while catching her breath after others, Venus Williams left the French Open after the first round for the first time since 2001.
Williams, 32, is a seven-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player seeded 30th at Roland Garros. But Sunday, she felt hampered by a bad back, had problems with her serve — all sorts of strokes, actually — and lost 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (4-7), 6-4 to 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland.
Inflammation in her lower back limited Williams to two matches over 1½ months, preparation she called, with a chuckle, "extremely un-ideal."
"I can't really serve very hard. It's painful when I do that. But I'm getting better. I just, you know, ran out of time to get better for this tournament," said Williams, broken on 11 of her 17 service games. "My strategy was more or less to put the ball in, and that's very difficult for me, too, because that's not who I am. But that's all I had."
Last year she lost in the second round at Roland Garros to Radwanska's older sister, Agnieszka.
"Yeah, of course, I was talking with Aga about Venus," said Urszula, who never has been past the second round of a major. "I was well-prepared for this match, and I knew she was a great fighter, so I should be focused the whole match."
Williams' sister Serena made a fluent return to the Parisian clay, overwhelming Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 — then addressing an appreciative audience at Court Philippe Chatrier in French.
"I have been speaking French for years and years, but I don't really have a lot of confidence," Serena said later, in English. "It's way, way more nerve-racking than playing tennis."
The only other seeded player ousted on Day 1 was No. 11 Nadia Petrova, who lost 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to Monica Puig.
On the men's side, 17-time major champion Roger Federer won 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 over Pablo Carreno Busta, who made his Grand Slam debut. No. 4 David Ferrer, No. 14 Milos Raonic and American Sam Querrey, the No. 18 seed, also advanced.
In an encounter filled with momentum swings, No. 15 Gilles Simon of France overcame a two-set deficit for the first time in his career to edge Lleyton Hewitt 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5.
Hewitt, 32, was asked whether he'll be back at the French Open and replied, "Don't know. Haven't even thought about it."
A similar question was put to Venus Williams after her match lasted 3 hours, 19 minutes. She sounded bothered by the topic.
"If it's the last match, I'll let you know," she answered. "That's pretty much how it works."