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Published Jun. 26, 2012

WIMBLEDON, England - Racket bag slung over her shoulder, resignation written across her face, Venus Williams weaved through fans milling about on the sidewalks that players must traverse to get from Court 2 to the Wimbledon locker rooms.

Williams, 32, had just absorbed a lopsided first-round loss at the Grand Slam tournament she once ruled, a poor performance that raised questions about how much longer she will keep playing tennis while dealing with an energy-sapping illness.

She trudged by as her hitting partner, David Witt, was saying: "It's tough to watch sometimes. I think everybody sees it. I don't know what else to say."

Looking lethargic, and rarely showing off the power-based game that carried her to five Wimbledon titles and seven majors overall, Williams departed meekly Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 defeat to 79th-ranked Elena Vesnina of Russia. Only once before, as a teenager making her Wimbledon debut in 1997, had Williams exited so early at the All England Club.

She hadn't lost in the first round at any Grand Slam tournament in 6-1/2 years. Still, Williams said she'll be at the London Olympics next month and is "planning" to be back at Wimbledon next year.

"I feel like I'm a great player," Williams said, sounding a tad like someone trying to convince herself.

She repeated that affirmation as she continued: "I am a great player. Unfortunately, I had to deal with circumstances that people don't normally have to deal with in this sport. But I can't be discouraged by that. ... There's no way I'm just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freakin' tournaments back."

Later, as part of a slightly testy and awkward exchange with reporters, she said: "I'm tough, let me tell you. Tough as nails."

Her loss, in her first match since a second-round ouster at the French Open, was part of an odd Day 1, even if the true tournament favorites in action won easily: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova. Among those sent home were sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, the 2010 runner-up at Wimbledon; 11th-seeded John Isner of Tampa; No.16 Flavia Pennetta; and No.18 Jelena Jankovic, who was rather easily beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Kim Clijsters, a four-time major champion who has been beset by injuries in her last season on tour and, like Williams, is unseeded.

Other seeded losers: No.23 Andreas Seppi, No. 24 Marcel Granollers and No.27 Daniela Hantuchova, who was upset by 100th-ranked Jamie Hampton of the United States 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

The biggest surprise might have been the way Isner, the highest-ranked American man, blew a match point, wasted a two-sets-to-one lead, dropped a tiebreaker on grass and lost 6-4, 6-7 (9-7), 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5 in the first round against 73rd-ranked Alejandro Falla of Colombia.

Isner left his third consecutive major tournament after a five-set loss, including 18-16 at the French Open against 261st-ranked Paul-Henri Mathieu. This from a guy who's best known for winning the longest match in history, 70-68 in the fifth after more than 11 hours, against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010.

"I didn't put my opponent away. I had my chances, and I didn't do it. It's all on me. Was just not great on my part," said the 6-foot-9 Isner, who hit 31 aces to Falla's four. "I get out there sometimes, and lately it's happening quite a lot, and I get out there in the match and I'm just so clouded. I just can't seem to figure things out. I'm my own worst enemy out there. It's all mental for me, and it's pretty poor on my part."

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Top matches today

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Women - Victoria Azarenka (2) vs. Irina Falconi, Petra Kvitova (4) vs. Akgul Amanmuradova, Serena Williams (6) vs. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Caroline Wozniacki (7) vs. Tamira Paszek

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