On comeback, Venus Williams fades against teenager Celine Naef | Inquirer Sports

On comeback, Venus Williams fades against teenager Celine Naef

/ 03:25 PM June 14, 2023

US Venus Williams attempts to return the ball to Switzerland's Celine Naef during their women's singles match on day two of the Libema Open tennis tournament in Rosmalen on June 13, 2023

US Venus Williams attempts to return the ball to Switzerland’s Celine Naef during their women’s singles match on day two of the Libema Open tennis tournament in Rosmalen on June 13, 2023. (Photo by Sander Koning / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT

Venus Williams, playing her first match since early January, went down 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 to Celine Naef in the first round in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands on Tuesday.

With sister Serena, who retired last year, in the crowd, Venus Williams, who turns 43 on Saturday, started strongly, but she faded as Naef, a 17-year old Swiss ranked 202 in the world, took her first tour victory in two hours, 18 minutes.

“I cannot believe I had the chance to play against Venus,” said Naef, who was born on June 25, 2005, as Williams was on her way to her third Wimbledon title. “She’s an amazing player and really a role model for anyone.”

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Williams, ranked 696, was a wild card entry and was competing in the Netherlands for the first time in her career. It was her first singles match on grass since Wimbledon in 2021.

She last played on any surface in Auckland in January where she lost her second match to Zhu Lin of China, sustaining a hamstring injury that forced her to withdraw from the Australian Open.

On Tuesday, Williams broke in the eighth game on her way to taking the first set.

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She then broke in the fifth game of the second. But Naef broke back and won the tie-break before running away with the match, her first in the main draw at a WTA tournament.

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“For me, it was the biggest stage I ever played,” she said on court at the finish. “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.”

In the next round, the Swiss will face eighth seed Caty McNally who eased past fellow American Katie Volynets 6-2, 6-1 in 65 minutes.

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Fourth seed Ekaterina Alexandrova started her title defence with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Evgeniya Rodina.

No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu beat Turkish qualifier Zeynep Sonmez, who was also making her WTA main-draw debut, 6-4, 6-4.

Veronika Kudermetova is top seed in a field that also includes Victoria Azarenka.

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