Eastbourne: Venus Williams will be restricted to the practice courts as she continues her preparation for Wimbledon after she was beaten 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 by Daniela Hantuchova in the quarterfinals at Eastbourne on Thursday.
Her defeat came a day after the dismissal of Serena Williams by the top-seeded Vera Zvonareva as the sisters both return from lengthy injury breaks.
However, Williams said she heads to Wimbledon with plenty of confidence as she targets a sixth title at the Al England Club. The tournament begins Monday.
"I played a lot of matches here, spent a lot of time on the court," Williams said. "It's not the best luck today, but I feel good about my preparation.
"I feel really positive about my matches here. I thought I played pretty good. I thought more than anything I was able to get a lot of great competition. This has been ideal."
Hantuchova had lost all 10 of her previous matches against Williams, and had only won two sets, but has been in good form recently, reaching the Birmingham final last week. She advances to a semifinal against fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (2).
"I was really looking forward to the match today and really pleased that I was able to win," Hantuchova said. "It's obviously nice to see (the Williams sisters) both back. I think they're great for the game."
Hantuchova dominated the listless American in the first set, serving well, playing aggressively and showing confidence in going for the lines.
The former No. 5-ranked Slovak broke in the third game after Williams double-faulted and then made a backhand error, and she broke again to lead 5-2 with a superbly struck backhand pass down the line.
Williams offered a brief challenge as Hantuchova served for the set but failed to convert three break points before Hantuchova closed out the set with a crosscourt winner.
"I definitely wish I could have came out harder," Williams said. "I think she was a little bit tentative in the beginning, and then to lose serve wasn't ideal, but I definitely thought I was gonna break back. That didn't work out the way I wanted to."
The American, playing her first event since retiring with hip and abdominal injuries during the Australian Open in January, first faced defeat as Hantuchova held a break point in the second set to lead 5-3.
But Hantuchova hit a ball down the line that landed wide, and Williams went on to break for 4-4 when her return clipped the net and fell in her favor.
Williams then broke to love for the set when Hantuchova netted a weak backhand.
With both players battling a strong wind, Hantuchova regained the upper hand in the final set, breaking for 1-0. Williams made a brief revival, leveling at 2-2 before Hantuchova swept the next four games.
Williams, who mis-hit a serve that flew out of the stadium, acknowledged that the wind had been a factor.
"Today was really tough," she said. "It was hard to capitalize on the serve. Right up until the last point, I took my racquet back and the wind blew it forward. I was like, 'Oh, no.' I think I probably even said, 'Oh, no.'
"But I give her credit to hanging there. Pretty much on a day like today, you just have to hang in there."
Despite competing well this week, Williams said she would have preferred more time before returning to the tour — but that Wimbledon was too tempting.
"I probably may have had a couple more weeks," she said. "But this is Wimbledon, after all. So I didn't want to miss it. But regardless, I think I'm playing pretty well.
"I tried to work as hard as I could coming back. It was definitely a long and slow road, but, you know, no pressure on me right now."