PARIS - After a few more dismal showings in Grand Slam events - well, maybe even now - the former No. 1 women's tennis player will face this question:
Didn't you used to be Venus Williams?
Williams hasn't been close to her prime in years, and her loss yesterday in the third round of the French Open to a 15-year-old ranked barely inside the Top 100 had her looking the picture of abject failure.
Williams hit seven double faults and committed 52 unforced errors in losing, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, to Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, who dropped to the court after match point and later threw kisses and bowed to the crowd.
With clay on her knees, Karatantcheva looked like a kid who had been playing outside in the park when she shook hands with Williams at the net.
Williams, 24, has advanced past the fourth round only once in her past six Grand Slam events, reaching the quarterfinals here last year. And the loss to No. 98 Karatantcheva was her worst in terms of ranking since one to No. 125 Barbara Schwartz in the fourth round here in 1999.
Often, Williams says she beats herself, and that perception was accurate as her game veered wildly off course after getting on track in the second set. But that was about it for self-perception. Williams, as usual, refused to acknowledge the need for fundamental change.
"I think that I'll continue on my path," she said.
That path has led to no Grand Slam singles titles since the 2001 U.S. Open. Last week, Williams earned her first title in more than a year, winning a small event in Istanbul, Turkey.
But the players she defeated there had a combined average ranking of 109. One thing that helped the Bulgarian youngster was that she came into the match preparing for the Williams of 2001, not the floundering, forehand-challenged 2005 model.
"I personally always remember her in the best years. I had to make a plan for my game, it's always in my head, the Venus Williams I saw, the Grand Slams I saw her win," Karatantcheva said.
The edge is off the brashness she showed last year at Indian Wells in declaring she would "kick off" the rear end of Maria Sharapova. But Karatantcheva had journalists chuckling in the news conference when she walked in with a couple of plastic bags of laundry and regaled the gathering with stories of learning English by listening to the Spice Girls and her current inexplicable love of the '70s rock group Queen.
She also explained what happened in the second set.
"I kind of start thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm up a set against Venus Williams. You know, something is wrong. Something must be wrong,'" Karatantcheva said.
Williams' loss means two Americans remain. Top-seeded Lindsay Davenport yesterday advanced to the fourth round, barely getting by Virginie Razzano of France, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Marissa Irvin will play her third-round match today.
On the men's side, the highly anticipated match between 18-year-olds Rafael Nadal of Spain and Richard Gasquet of France didn't meet the hype. Nadal won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, as Gasquet wore down in the heat.
Roger Federer also needed only three sets, defeating Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 7-6 (9), 7-5, 6-2.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Roger Federer (1), Swtzld, def. Fernando Gonzalez (25), Chile, 7-6 (9), 7-5, 6-2. Carlos Moya (14), Spain, def. Fernando Vicente, Spain, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 0-6, 6-4. Rafael Nadal (4), Spain, def. Richard Gasquet (30), Fra., 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. David Ferrer (20), Spain, def. Lee Hyung-taik, S.Korea, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5.
Sebastien Grosjean (23), Fra., def. Radek Stepanek (16), Czech Rep., 6-1, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. V. Hanescu, Rom., def. Luis Horna, Peru, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Gaston Gaudio (5), Arg., def. Felix Mantilla, Spain, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. David Nalbandian (10), Arg., def. Mario Ancic (18), Croatia, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Kim Clijsters (14), Belgium, def. Daniela Hantuchova (20), Slovakia, 6-4, 6-2. Lindsay Davenport (1), U.S.A., def. Virginie Razzano, Fra., 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Elena Likhovtseva (16), Rus., def. Silvia Farina Elia (18), Italy, 7-5, 7-6 (2). Elena Dementieva (4), Rus., def. Akiko Morigami, Japan, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Patty Schnyder (8), Swtzld, def. Flavia Pennetta (32), Italy, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1. Mary Pierce (21), Fra., def. Vera Zvonareva (9), Rus., 7-6 (2), 7-5. Sesil Karatantcheva, Bulgaria, def. Venus Williams (11), U.S.A., 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. Emilie Loit, Fra., vs. Emmanuelle Gagliardi, Swtzld, 6-4, 3-6, susp., darkness.