Rio Olympics: The inexplicable can happen in tennis, but Serena Williams’ performance at the 2016 Olympics will truly go down as one of the biggest head-scratchers of her career.
Spraying errors and piling up double-faults at an uncharacteristic rate, Williams made a stunningly lethargic exit from Rio on Tuesday, losing 6-4, 6-3 to Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the women’s singles Round of 16 in a swift 72 minutes.
Her performance was only slightly longer than her post-match news conference, which she decided not to attend, opting instead for a statement delivered through a Team USA spokesperson.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said Williams, who is also out of the doubles draw after she and her sister, Venus, lost in the first round. “The better player won. It was a great opportunity that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. At least I was able to make Rio, which was one of my goals. It was awesome, but it’s over now.”
Williams, who held a 4-0 record over Svitolina going into Tuesday’s tie, committed error after error.
The 21-year-old Ukrainian — coached on the tour by one of Williams’ former rivals, Justine Henin — broke for 5-4 in the opener and sealed it with an ace in the 10th game.
She was a break to the good again in the second set, nervelessly backing it up with a service hold for 3-1.
Williams briefly rallied to break back at 3-3 but her calamitous seventh game sealed her fate.
“I didn’t really think about my record against Serena,” said Svitolina.
“I didn’t expect that I could win and I said don’t think she will make a mistake. Just fight and focus.
“I stayed in the moment, relaxed and went for my shots especially in second set because it was really tight.”
Svitolina said she was not surprised by Williams’ uncharacteristic serving up of five double faults.
“She can also hit four aces in a row, so I expected the unexpected.
“I tried not to think about playing Serena, the Olympic champion and so many Grand Slams.
“I also thought she may be injured but I tried not to think about it too much.”
Williams’ defeat followed a first round loss for men’s world number one Novak Djokovic.
It also blew the women’s singles wide open with just two top 10 seeds making it to the quarter-finals.