After her latest early Grand Slam exit, Venus Williams was asked what the future holds for her at the US Open.
Williams brushed aside the unspoken reference to retirement, saying, "I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere."
Then she added: "I mean, next year's Open is so far away right now."
At 33, slowed the past couple of years by an autoimmune disease that saps energy, and hampered much of this season by a bad back, Williams knows that such queries are going to arrive, particularly after results such as her 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) loss to 56th-ranked Zheng Jie of China yesterday at Flushing Meadows. It is the third year in a row that the two-time champion has been knocked out of the US Open after two rounds.
"If I didn't think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn't be here," said Williams, who was ranked No 1 in 2002 and is now 60th. "I feel like I do, and that's why I'm here." The American acquitted herself well for stretches, erasing deficits over and over again, until she simply ran out of solutions against Zheng, a former top-15 player and twice a major semifinalist.
In what she took as an encouraging sign, Williams was out there for 3 hours, 2 minutes, tying for the fifth-longest women's match since 1970 at the US Open. The third set alone lasted an hour.
More than four hours of rain delays during the day meant 2012 champion Andy Murray did not play his first point of the tournament until 9.55pm, one of the latest starts for a US Open night session.
Murray's 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory over 49th-ranked Michael Llodra of France began in Arthur Ashe Stadium only after 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro wrapped up a contentious 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory over 74th-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain that stretched for more than four hours.
Murray, who last month became the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon, needed only a little more than an hour to get past Llodra, making only five unforced errors while compiling 34 winners.