Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams made her second consecutive second-round exit from the US Open on Thursday as German sixth seed Angelique Kerber ousted the American 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.
It marked the first year in Williams’ career, which began in 1997, that she has not gone past the second round in any Grand Slam tournament.
Kerber, a 24-year-old left-hander who advanced to the semi-finals last month at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, reached a third-round date with Olga Govortsova of Belarus, who beat British qualifier Johanna Konta 2-6, 6-2, 7-5.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kerber said. “I had great memories from last year and the match was so tough and so close.
“Venus won so many Grand Slams and I’m so happy to beat her in New York. It’s an amazing feeling to play here in a night session.”
Williams, whose most recent major title came in 2008 at Wimbledon, missed a chance to avenge a third-round loss to Kerber at the London Olympics.
Kerber also defeated Williams’ sister Serena in a Cincinnati quarter-final to snap the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s 19-match win streak that had included Wimbledon and Olympic titles.
Kerber improved to 19-2 in three-set matches this year, helped by 16 double faults and 60 unforced errors from Williams. Kerber made only five double faults and 25 unforced errors.
“I just tried to play my game plan, fighting every point to the last,” Kerber said.
“It’s amazing that I’ve won so many third sets this year. I will try to stay focused and continue this in the next months.”
Williams, ranked 46th, battles an auto-immune ailment that saps her energy. She has not won a title since Acapulco in 2010 and has not lifted a US Open trophy since her back-to-back crowns in 2000 and 2001.
In the last set, Williams obtained the first break-point chance in the sixth game and capitalised with a forehand winner for a 4-2 lead, inspiring cheers of “Let’s Go Venus” from the night crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But Kerber nailed a lunging forehand volley winner in the next game to break back at 3-3 after Williams sent a forehand long.
Williams denied Kerber on a break point in the ninth game but surrendered a break when she swatted a forehand long, handing the German a 6-5 edge and a second chance to serve for the match.
Kerber finally ended matters by holding after two hours and 45 minutes.
After exchanging service breaks with Williams over the first five games, Kerber held for a 4-2 lead, broke Willaims again and then held to claim the first set after 31 minutes.
Williams connected on only 36 per cent of her first serves in the opening set and made 15 unforced errors, including netting back-to-back backhands on the final two points of the set.
Williams changed the tape on the handle of her racquet after the first set but getting a grip on the match was more difficult, with 26 unforced errors coming in the second set.
Kerber broke Williams when the American netted a forehand from the baseline in the first game of the second set.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd began yelling encouragement to Williams but she squandered a break-point chance in the second game and Kerber held before Williams for the first time in the match, sparking a roar from the crowd.
Williams smacked a down-the-line winner to break Kerber and held again for a 3-2 edge before the German had a trainer treat her right heel.
Kerber held and broke Williams for a 4-3 edge when the two-time US Open champion left a drop shot within range for the German to run down, but Kerber hit a backhand beyond the baseline to surrender a break and level the set.
Williams netted a forehand to surrender a break in a ninth game that lasted nearly nine minutes but broke back in the 10th, then held and broke to take the set when Kerber netted a forehand.