Venus Williams was moving freely in her first-round match at the Australian Open, breezing through the first set and getting a look at another break in the second against a player who upset her sister here two years ago.
That’s when things started to go wrong for her Monday, the first day of the season-opening major. The seven-time Grand Slam champion missed the break-point chance in the sixth game and then, after getting to 40-30 on serve in the ninth, inexplicably firing three consecutive double-faults to surrender a break and just about the set to No. 22-seeded Ekaterina Makarova.
After a quick break and a change of her self-designed zebra print dress, she took a 3-0 lead in the third before her unforced error toll climbed to 56 and Makarova won six of the next seven games for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.
The 33-year-old Williams, the second-oldest player in the tournament, has struggled with injuries and illness in recent seasons but reached the final of the WTA event at Auckland to start 2014 and came to Melbourne saying she was feeling better than she had in years.
“The last 12 months I have had issues,” she said. “But this year I definitely am looking forward to having a good run and feeling well.”
That didn’t happen Monday.
“My level was a little bit too up and down. Obviously my error count was a little high,” said Williams, the 2003 finalist who was playing in her 14th Australian Open. “I have to give her a lot of credit, though, she was very determined ... played hard.”
Makarova said because it was the first match of the tournament, it was probably more difficult to beat Venus than it was to upset Serena Williams in the fourth round here in 2012.
She’ll meet another American in the second round after qualifier Irina Falconi beat Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain 6-3, 6-1. Three-highly-ranked players were beaten in the first round, including 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and two Italians.
Sixth-seeded Kvitova lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 to No. 88-ranked Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand, who was playing in just her second Grand Slam tournament after reaching the second round at Melbourne Park last year.
No. 7 Sara Errani, the 2012 French Open finalist, was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Julia Gorges of Germany and No. 12 Roberta Vinci lost 6-4, 6-3 to Zheng Jie of China.
Two-time finalist Li Na beat Ana Konjuh of Croatia the youngest player in the tournament 6-2, 6-0 in 61 minutes to set up a meeting with another 16-year-old in the next round after Belinda Bencic of Switzerland accounted for 43-year-old Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm in three sets.
Li, the 2011 French Open champion, is in the same half of the draw as No. 1-ranked Serena Williams, who was scheduled to play a night match against Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty.
Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens was the first woman into the second round when she beat Britain’s Laura Robson 6-3, 6-0. No. 9 Angelique Kerber, 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, No. 14 Ana Ivanovic, No. 26 Lucie Safarova, No. 28 Flavia Pennetta, No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and No. 31 Daniela Hantuchova also went through.
American Madison Keys wasted five match points in the second set and another in the third before finally beating Patricia Mayr-Achleitner of Austria 6-2, 6-7 (8), 9-7.
Eighth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who won the recent Chennai Open in India, was the first man into the next round, advancing after just 15 games when Andrey Golubev retired with an injured left leg.
Two other players retired due to shoulder injuries, with Alex Bogomolov Jr., quitting after losing two sets to No. 15 Fabio Fognini and No. 12-seeded Tommy Haas pulling out when he was down a set and a break against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Third-ranked David Ferrer opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez and No. 7 Tomas Berdych beat Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Ukraine 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
No. 20 Jerzy Janowicz, a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year, rallied from two sets down to beat 19-year-old Australian wild card Jordan Thompson 1-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in 3 hours, 16 minutes.
Other men advancing included No. 9 Richard Gasquet, No. 14 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 17 Tommy Robredo, No. 19 Kevin Anderson, No. 23 Ernests Gulbis, No. 29 Jeremy Chardy, No. 32 Ivan Dodig and American Sam Querrey, who defeated Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3).