AUCKLAND • An erratic Serena Williams crashed out of the Auckland Classic after a shock second-round defeat yesterday, just a day after sister Venus withdrew with an arm injury.
Top-seeded Serena blamed the wind for a string of unforced errors - 88 in total - in her first event after a four-month layoff. She was sent packing 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 in a 2hr 14min arm wrestle with world No. 72 and fellow American Madison Brengle.
"I really think I played - I'm trying to think of a word that's not obscene, but that's pretty much how I played," Serena told reporters.
"I just couldn't get used to the wind. My opponent played in the exact same conditions so obviously she was used to it and her game was more suited to it but it was just really annoying me for whatever reason."
Serena, playing in her first tournament since losing in the semi-finals of the US Open in September, was looking for a strong showing in Auckland, both to prepare for the Australian Open and to celebrate her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
After blaming rust for her sluggish first-round win over Pauline Parmentier on Tuesday, she succumbed in abject fashion a day later with a double-fault on match point at 4-5 in the third set in the blustery conditions.
"I didn't hit any returns in the vicinity of the court," the world No. 2 lamented. "I've never returned like that in my life - a little frustrating especially since I worked so hard in the off-season.
"And 88 unforced errors is too much, just way too many. It's a lot. I can't expect to win hitting that many errors.
"But I can take solace from the fact conditions won't be like this in Melbourne."
Brengle dropped her second service game but at 4-1 down reeled off five consecutive games to take the first set.
In the second set she saved five set points before losing the tiebreak to Serena.
In the final set, she held her nerve as games went with serve until Serena double-faulted on match point.
"Honestly I don't know (how I won)," Brengle, 26, said.
"It's so cool. It's what you dream about, playing the best in the world. The last time I played her I only won one game, it got a lot better today," she added, referring to Serena's 6-0, 6-1 win in their only previous meeting in the Madrid Masters in 2015.
Second-seed Venus decided to quit after suffering a sore right arm during her struggle to a 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 first-round victory over New Zealander Jade Lewis on Tuesday.
The 36-year-old had complained of "feeling old" after dropping her serve four times and serving eight double-faults against Lewis, who is half her age.
"The first match of the year is never perfect," she said after the game.
"I love this tournament and I'm really sad that I have to withdraw, but I'm happy to have had the opportunity to be here again this year.
"I'm just feeling old."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS