Venus Williams is out of the Rio Olympics, losing in the first round to unfancied Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

When Williams pushed one last forehand long to lose in the first round for the first time in her record five Olympic singles tournaments, her opponent celebrated as if having claimed a gold medal, dropping down on the green hard court to plant a kiss on the white five-ring logo.

This was clearly a very big deal to Kirsten Flipkens, a Belgian ranked 62nd and only once as far as the semifinals at a Grand Slam event.

Just two points away from winning on four occasions, the 36-year-old Williams faded as the match stretched past three hours.

Advertisement

The American owns four gold medals: one in singles and three in doubles with her younger sister Serena. She owns 21 Grand Slam titles: seven in singles, 14 in doubles with Serena. But the older Williams laboured at times and even showed frustration by shouting "Ridiculous!" after dropping one point.

With US Secretary of State John Kerry watching from a second-row seat behind a baseline, the fifth-seeded Williams wasted a 4-1 lead in the final set and was broken while serving for the victory at 5-3.

Williams is the first tennis player to participate in singles at five Olympics, and never had failed to reach at least the third round before, claiming a gold at the 2000 Sydney Games.
She also won doubles golds in 2000, 2008 and 2012.

But against Flipkens, who was making her Olympic debut, Williams failed to find the right measure on most of her strokes and wound up with 13 fewer winners.

Williams, once possessor of one of the best serves in women's tennis, hit one ace, five fewer than Flipkens.

The crowd couldn't seem to settle on which woman it wanted to win. They greeted Williams far more loudly and warmly during pre-match introductions, although perhaps that was because of her far-greater name recognition.

Later, though, they roared when Williams made mistakes. They clapped when she double-faulted. They even gave her grief for the common and innocuous practice of catching a ball toss that wasn't good.

When one group of spectators bellowed a "USA! USA!" chant late in the third set, others responded by booing (Kerry had left by then).