The seven-time Grand Slam champion was eliminated 6-1, 6-3 by Elena Vesnina of Russia at Wimbledon on Monday, the latest setback in her return to tennis after being diagnosed with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease.
Williams, who has fallen to 58th in the rankings, lost the first five games on Court 2 to the 79th-ranked Russian and, although she picked up her game and fought hard, was never able to turn the match around.
It was the first time Williams lost in the opening round of a Grand Slam since the 2006 Australian Open— the first at Wimbledon since her debut appearance in 1997.
"I feel like I'm a great player," Williams said. "I am a great player. Unfortunately I have to deal with circumstances that people don't have to deal with normally in a sport, but I can't be discouraged by that. I'm up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity."
There were no opening day troubles for top-ranked Novak Djokovic, six-time champion Roger Federer and No. 1 Maria Sharapova, who all enjoyed easy straight-set wins on a cloudy but dry start to the two-week grass court championships.
Federer, seeking his record-tying seventh Wimbledon crown, dropped only three games in trouncing Spain's Albert Ramos 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 on Court 1 — the first time since 2003 that he wasn't assigned to Centre Court for the opening round.
Williams revealed in late August at the U.S. Open that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune condition that can cause fatigue and joint pain. She skipped the Australian Open in January, before returning to the tour in March in a bid to earn a berth on the U.S Olympic team for the London Games.
"I've been through a lot for years without knowing what I was going through," she said. "It's all a culmination at the end of the day. I just try to stay positive and focus on the tennis. I'm tough, let me tell you — tough as nails."
Williams has been champion or runner-up at the All England Club eight of the past 12 years, with her last title coming in 2008. The three losses in finals all came against younger sister Serena.
"I don't have time to feel sorry for myself," she said. "I'm not going to give up on it. ... There's no way I'm going to just sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six tournaments back. That's just not me."
The Olympic tournament will be played at Wimbledon three weeks after the end of the championships.
"At the Olympics, you'll see me here," she said. "I'm planning on it."
The 25-year-old Vesnina, who reached the fourth round here in 2009, played smart and steady baseline tennis to keep Williams at bay. It took 30 minutes before Williams won a game. But Vesnina broke right back to close out the set with a forehand winner.
The second set was much more contested, but once the Russian broke again for a 4-2 lead, she was in full control. Three games later, Vesnina cracked a big first serve on match point and Williams slapped a forehand return into the net.
In keeping with tradition, the defending men's champ got the honor of opening play on Centre Court. Djokovic, bidding for a sixth Grand Slam title, was broken in his second service game as he slipped behind the baseline on break point and couldn't return the shot. But he held serve the rest of the way, losing only nine points on his first serve and finishing with 13 aces.
Ferrero, a 32-year-old Spaniard who won the French Open in 2003 and reached No. 1 in the world that year, was never able to mount a challenge on the fast surface.
Sharapova, who won the French Open this month to complete a career Grand Slam, picked up right where she left off at Roland Garros. She thoroughly dominated the 133rd-ranked Rodionova, a Russian-born Australian, to win in just over an hour.
Play began right on time at 11:30 a.m. on the outside courts under cloudy skies but without any threat of the rain that has soaked London and parts of Britain for much of the past few weeks. Temperatures reached 72 degrees.
Eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic beat 2002 runner-up David Nalbandian 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2. It was Nalbandian's first match since he was disqualified in the final at Queen's Club for kicking an advertising board and injuring a line judge.
"I think everybody understood (it) wasn't a good thing that I did, but (I) was very unlucky, as well," he said.