Seven-time major champion Venus Williams, who received a wild-card into the main draw, lost her first competitive singles match since injuring her hamstring in January, succumbing to 17-year-old Celine Naef, 3-6 7-6(3) 6-2 at the Libema Open in s’-Hertogenbosch, in Rosmalen, the Netherlands, a WTA 250 grass court tournament on Tuesday.
For me, it was the biggest stage I ever played. It was incredible and amazing to play in front of such a big crowd. I was very nervous, maybe you could see, but I tried to keep going and try my best. Celine Naef
With family members including her retired sister, Serena, in the stands, the 42-year-old American battled temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius and an opponent making her WTA debut to win the first set, before losing a second-set tiebreak, and then wilting in the decider.
“Amazing!” the Swiss teenager said on court after Tuesday’s win. “I cannot believe I had the chance to play against Venus,. She’s an amazing player, and really a role model for everyone.
“For me, it was the biggest stage I ever played. It was incredible and amazing to play in front of such a big crowd. I was very nervous, maybe you could see, but I tried to keep going and try my best.”
Naef, who also received a wild-card, scored her memorable win after 2 hours and 18 minutes on court, coming from a set down.
Williams, 42, is a former World No 1 who owns 7 Grand Slam singles crowns, 5 of which have come on the grass of Wimbledon, while Naef is a former junior No 4 who had never played a tour-level match before.
In imperious form Williams, now ranked 696, took the first set despite being put under pressure by Naef in the 7th game, but she served strongly to save 2 break points and took a 4-3 lead.
The American then broke Naef to love to go up 5-3, and served a love game as she reeled off 12 straight points.
Maintaining her momentum into the second, Williams pressured Naef into errors and broke for 3-2, but the Swiss teenager has enjoyed a superb transition to the pro tour so far, rising from No 904 last September to her current No 202, while her record this season now stands at 29-8.
Showing her quality as she fought back, both showed their all-court skills with passes, drop-shots and volleys.
Williams’ forehand was crucial in keeping her in the set until the tiebreak, when it let her down as she produced 3 key unforced errors out of the blue.
After a sequence of 3 breaks to begin the decider, Naef took control as Williams fell away, racking up 41 unforced errors, 16 of which came in the last 8 games.
“For me, it was the biggest stage I ever played,” Naef said later. “It was incredible and amazing to play in front of such a big crowd. I was very nervous, maybe you could see, but I tried to keep going and try my best.”
Naef will next face No 8 seed Caty McNally, who needed just 65 minutes to take out fellow American Katie Volynets, 6-2 6-1.
Elsewhere in 1st-round action, No 4 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia kicked off her title defence with a 6-3 6-4 defeat of compatriot Evgeniya Rodina; and No 6 seed Bianca Andreescu from Canada survived a valiant effort from Turkish qualifier Zeynep Sonmez, advancing 6-4 6-4.
Andreescu, the 6th seed, completed her task in 84 minutes, and will face Viktoria Hruncakova in the round 2, after the Slovakian was a 6-4 6-2 winner over Switzerland’s Susan Bandecchi.
Another Canadian, Carol Zhao is scheduled to play top seed Veronika Kudermetova from Russia in the 2nd-round on Wednesday, both coming through in straight sets on Monday
The top seed benefited from Alison Riske-Amritraj’s retirement with the score standing at 6-3, 3-0 in the Russian’s favour, while Zhao was a 7-6(3) 7-6(4) winner over Belgian Yasline Bonaventure.
Kudermetova’s sister, Polina, also won through, beating Yuan Yue from China, 6-4 6-3, to set up an ecnounter with Liudmila Samsonova, the No 2 seed.
Kimberley Birrell from Australia beat Dutchwoman Lesely Pattinama Kerkhove, 6-1 6-4, to progress to the 2nd-round in the Netherlands, but fellow Aussie Priscilla Hon went out after losing 6-3 6-0 to American Sachia Vickery.