By Clare Fallon
LONDON (Reuters) - Looking as though she could barely be bothered to get off her chair, five-times former champion Venus Williams went out of Wimbledon's opening round on Monday, thrashed 6-1 6-3 by Russian Elena Vesnina.
It was the former world number one's earliest loss at Wimbledon since she went out in the first round on her debut here in 1997 and, following her second-round defeat at Roland Garros last month, must raise questions about the American's future in the game she has graced for a decade and a half.
At the age of 32, and trying to come back after being diagnosed with the autoimmune, fatigue-inducing illness Sjogren's Syndrome, Venus looked a shadow of the woman who used to skip across Wimbledon's grass slaying opponents at will.
She never recovered from a terrible start against doubles specialist Vesnina and lasted just 75 minutes on Court Two in a match she littered with unforced errors.
Almost every shot looked an effort for the tall American and at changeovers she plodded slowly to and from her chair.
Though the fans applauded politely as Vesnina took point after point, most were rooting for Venus to show her old form but she obliged only in tiny flashes.
Perhaps buoyed up by a cry of "Come on Venus, we love you!" from a man in the crowd, she produced an ace and held to love for 3-5 in the second set but it was too little, too late and she succumbed to defeat in the following game.
Venus, who returned to the tour in March after seven months out with her illness, took umbrage at suggestions that she was struggling and might now think about retirement.
"There is no way I am just going to sit out just because I had a hard time the first five or six freaking tournaments back, that is just not me," said the American, who failed to hold her serve during the opening set.
"I am tough, let me tell you, tough as nails.
"I feel like I am a great player; I am a great player," added Venus, who last won Wimbledon in 2008.
"Unfortunately I have to deal with circumstances that people don't normally have to deal with in a sport but I can't be discouraged by that, so I'm up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity."
Venus will stay at Wimbledon to play doubles with sister Serena and the pair hope to defend their title at the London Olympic tournament here next month.
"I love this sport. I feel like I can play well and I'm not going to give up on that," she said.
Did that mean she would return to Wimbledon next year for another shot at a sixth title? "I'm planning on it," she said
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)