What had Venus Williams playing at half-speed in Olympic first-round loss

This is Venus Williams’ fifth and undoubtedly final Olympics. But after losing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a three-hour marathon to the crafty Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium in a first-round singles match that had the evening crowd amped up into a frenzy for her opponent, the 36-year-old can only hope to do something special at these Games in doubles with sister Serena.

And even that possibility has to be a question mark. Williams continues to struggle with a virus she caught last week at the end of a WTA Tournament in Montreal that has left her in pretty bad shape physically. At the Rogers Cup event she was serving at half-speed – practically lobbing the ball in – although she declined to specify what the issue was.

After Saturday’s defeat, Williams chose not to come to the mixed zone to speak to the media. Instead, U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez fielded questions for her.

“Unfortunately, Venus has been sick for a few days, is really ill right now,” Fernandez said. “She tried to get through that match – almost got to the finish line. But she’s been dehydrated, with some cramps, upset stomach. You probably could see on the court she’s coughing quite a bit.

“A bit of bad luck and bad timing that everything came together at this juncture for her. But she fought. She gave it her best out there.”

Given her physical state, Williams no doubt would have loved to play slam-bang tennis, using her power to finish off points quickly and save some energy. But Flipkens is the type of opponent who makes that more difficult to execute.

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