MELBOURNE, Australia — Just as she was starting to show glimpses of returning to form, Venus Williams was let down by her serve and concentration at crucial times and lost 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova early today at the Australian Open.
The No. 22-seeded Makarova upset Serena Williams in the fourth round here in 2012, but she was outplayed in the first set against the elder of the Williams sisters at the start, dropping serve three times.
Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion, had chances in the second set, too, missing a break-point opportunity to go up 4-2, and then serving three consecutive double faults after leading the ninth game 40-30.
Williams, at 33 the second-oldest player in the tournament, took some time out after the second set to change her dress and came back strong, taking a 3-0 lead. But Makarova rallied again and Williams' error count rose: She had 21 of her 56 unforced errors in the last set.
"My level was a little bit too up and down. Obviously my error count was a little high," Williams said. "I have to give her a lot of credit, though, she was very determined, played hard."
It was only the second time in 14 appearances that Williams lost in the first round at the Australian Open, where her best run remains a loss to her sister in the 2003 final.
"At 3-0 down (in the final set), I decided I had to fight for every point. I just kept fighting and I turned around the match," Makarova said.
Meanwhile, women's No. 4 seed Li Na was nearly flawless at a place she usually plays well, beating Ana Konjuh 6-2, 6-0 in 61 minutes. Li is a two-time finalist at Melbourne Park, losing to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Victoria Azarenka last year, and she has advanced to at least the fourth round every year since 2010.
"This is my favorite Grand Slam," said Li. "Always looking forward to come back to Melbourne."
This time Li frequently strayed from her traditional baseline position, several times volleying from the center of the court for winners during the fourth game of the second set when she broke Konjuh's service.
Kimiko Date-Krumm, at 43 the oldest singles player here, lost to Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, and No. 18-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, beat Laura Robson 6-3, 6-0. In another fast-finishing first-rounder, Karolina Pliskova had a 6-0, 6-1 win over French wild card Pauline Parmentier.
On the men's side, eighth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka was the first through to the second round, advancing after 15 games when Andrey Golubev retired with an injured left leg.
Wawrinka, who lost 12-10 in the fifth set to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round here last year in the longest Grand Slam match of 2013, was leading 6-4, 6-1 when Golubev quit. Golubev had taken a medical time out and had his lower left leg taped when he was down 5-2 in the first.
Third-ranked David Ferrer opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Alejandro Gonzalez, and American Sam Querry hit 47 winners in defeating Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3).