NEW YORK — After her latest early Grand Slam exit, Venus Williams was asked what the future holds for her at the U.S. Open.
In one breath, Williams brushed aside the unspoken reference to retirement, saying, "I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere."
And in the next, she said, "I mean, next year's Open is so far away right now."
At 33, slowed the past few years by an autoimmune disease that saps energy and hampered much of this season by a bad back, Williams knows by now that such queries are going to arrive, particularly after results such as her 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5) loss to 56th-ranked Zheng Jie on a wet Wednesday. It is the third year in a row the two-time champion is out after two rounds.
"If I didn't think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn't be here," said Williams, ranked 60th. "I feel like I do, and that's why I'm here."
On a day rain began falling in the early afternoon, jumbling the schedule, Tampa resident James Blake's career ended shortly after midnight with a five-set loss to Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, 6-7 (2-7), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2).
"I don't know when it's going to hit me," said Blake, 33, who announced this week he would retire after the U.S. Open. "I don't think I'll be sleeping much tonight."
Defending champion Andy Murray did not play his first point of the tournament until 9:55 p.m., making for the third-latest start to a U.S. Open night session. But he wasn't on the court long, beating unseeded Michael Llodra 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in about an hour and 40 minutes.
Murray's match began in Arthur Ashe Stadium only after 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro wrapped up a contentious 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) victory over 74th-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez that stretched more than four hours.
Del Potro was irked by his opponent's repeated calls for a trainer to treat his left leg, and Garcia-Lopez kicked a towel and got into an argument with the chair umpire over a ruling to replay a point in the closing tiebreaker.
With men playing in the first round and women in the second, rain delays caused eight women's singles matches to be postponed, including defending champion Serena Williams' match against Galina Voskoboeva.
Venus Williams acquitted herself well for stretches, erasing deficits until she simply ran out of solutions against Zheng, a former top-15 player and twice a major semifinalist.
"I just kept trying to fight," Venus said.
The matched lasted for 3 hours, 2 minutes, tying for the fifth-longest women's match since 1970 at the U.S. Open. The third set alone lasted 11/2 hours.
Near the finish line, Venus faltered. On the final two points, she missed a volley, then a return. She wound up with 44 unforced errors in all.