Serena Williams' comeback tournament at Eastbourne ended in the second round on Wednesday with a 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 loss to top-seeded Vera Zvonareva.
Zvonareva came through a tense match in 3 hours, 12 minutes for only her second win in eight matches against the 13-time Grand Slam champion.
The No. 3-ranked Russian avenged her 6-3, 6-2 loss in the 2010 Wimbledon final, which turned out to be Williams' last match for almost a year. Williams won her fourth title at the All England Club, but stepped on broken glass at a restaurant in July and needed two foot surgeries. She later developed blood clots on her lungs.
Williams drew on her trademark fighting spirit in the third set. She came back from 5-2 down to make it 5-5, saving three match points at 5-4. But Zvonareva immediately broke again and a tiring Williams couldn't muster another rally.
Williams lost on grass for the first time since she dropping the 2008 Wimbledon final to her sister Venus. On Wednesday, Serena was awarded a Wimbledon seeding of No. 7, which is 19 places above her ranking.
Returning from her own five-month layoff because of a hip injury, Venus reached the quarterfinals with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 win Wednesday over Ana Ivanovic.
Serena looked set to join her in the last eight when she served for the match at 5-4 in the second set against Zvonareva. But when facing a break point, Williams had a double-fault and Zvonareva, who had been looking increasingly upset, rediscovered her confidence.
Leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker, the Russian drove a winning forehand into the corner, with Williams on her backside after slipping on the baseline.
Williams appeared tired in the third set. She began coming to the net behind her serve to finish the points quickly, and was often out of position. But facing an opponent with a reputation for throwing away winning positions, she kept on fighting.
Trailing 5-4, Williams hopped on one foot and looked surprised and relieved as a bold backhand winner looped onto the line to save a second match point.
Zvonareva then overhit a backhand to make it deuce, before she thought she caught the line with a half-volley. The ball was called out, though, and despite her complaints, Williams had a break point, which she took with a backhand winner.
But Williams was broken at 15 in the next game. Zvonareva moved into a 40-0 lead and then powered a forehand winner onto the baseline to claim victory on her fourth match point.
Venus will face French Open champion Li Na or Daniela Hantuchova in the quarterfinals on Thursday after easing past Ivanovic.
The five-time Wimbledon champion didn't face a single break point in the first set while breaking Ivanovic twice.
"Obviously it's great, no breaks of serve," Williams said. "To be honest, I thought she played really well and when she had the chance to strike the ball she was hitting the corners, so I felt good to be able to get on top of her today."
Ivanovic had her only break point at 1-0 in the second set but Williams sent down a 122-mph first serve to save it before breaking twice more.
Ivanovic, who reached her first semifinal of the year in Birmingham last week, kept the match competitive with some crowd-pleasing winners, including a delicate backhand, crosscourt pass that left Williams completely flat-footed and set her on the way to a break point early in the second set.
However, Williams looked in control as she improved her record against Ivanovic to 7-1.
"I feel that I'm playing very tough and I'm playing well on the big points," Williams said. "These matches have been huge and crucial for me to just get back in the swing of things."
Williams had little expectation of what she might achieve at her first tournament since January, and her goal is to play as many matches as possible leading into Wimbledon. She's won five titles at the All England Club.
"I was hoping not to be injured this week. The first smash was definitely nerve wracking," she said. "Just hoping to come off the court on two legs - that was the first goal. Then to win a match is the ultimate goal. To have the opportunity to play another match is a great start.
"So I'm starting to have a couple of dominoes. I'm excited to be able to be able to play a third match. I just need matches."