Two-time champion Venus Williams said she felt American for the first time at a U.S. Open as the crowd urged her Thursday in her 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 loss to sixth-seeded Angelique Kerber.
Williams served poorly and stumbled badly for a set and a half before recovering to make things quite competitive. Williams came within two points of winning, but dropped five of the last six games.
Buoyed by chants of "Let's go, Venus!" in a mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium - perhaps spectators figured in the second set that Kerber was on her way to a swift victory - Williams found the resolve and energy to put aside her 16 double-faults and 60 total unforced errors and get back into the contest.
"I know this is not proper tennis etiquette, but this is the first time I've ever played here that the crowd has been behind me like that. Today I felt American for the first time at the U.S. Open," Williams said. "So I've waited my whole career to have this moment and here it is."
Asked after the match if she's ready to join Andy Roddick in retirement, Williams replied: "No, because if I could have made two more shots, I probably could have won that match. There's a big difference for me because I'm beating myself. I'm not getting destroyed out there. ... If I was out there and people were killing me, maybe it's time to hang it up."
A year ago at the U.S. Open, Williams didn't get the chance to play at all in the second round, withdrawing hours before the match and announcing she had Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue.
While the 32-year-old Williams never has uttered a word indicating she's thinking about leaving the sport, she is no longer the player she once was.
"Being on the losing end of a match like this isn't a lot of fun," Williams said. "Today all I had was fight, because I didn't play well."
In addition to her 2000 and 2001 trophies from the U.S. Open, and five titles from Wimbledon, Williams was the runner-up at major tournaments seven times. In 16 years of Grand Slam action, since her debut in 1997, Williams had never gone through an entire season without making at least one fourth-round appearance at a major.
Until 2012, when she never even made the third round once. She missed the Australian Open while still working her way back onto the tour, then lost in the second round at the French Open and the first round at Wimbledon.
Williams took quite a while to get going against Kerber, who was a semifinalist in New York last year. Williams was broken each of the first five times she served and nine times overall.
"It's been a long time; I usually don't have that many breaks," Williams said.
She only hit one ace, more than 1 1/2 hours into the match, in her 10th service game of the evening.
Then, after Williams led 4-2 in the third set, and was two points away from victory while leading 5-4 as Kerber served, it all came apart again for the American.