Serena, the best player in the world if not all-time, had never lost an Olympic match with her sister – the two have won three gold medals together. So when they were beaten in their first round match, there was a collective shock that could be felt in Rio, and all over the tennis world.
United States women's Olympic tennis coach Mary Joe Fernandez saying that Venus had been sick provided a sense of clarity, but the loss was still surprising. But it wasn't anything to worry about. Even the best lose sometimes.
Spraying errors and piling up double-faults at an uncharacteristic rate, Williams made a stunningly lethargic exit from Rio on Tuesday, losing 6-4, 6-3 to Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the women’s singles Round of 16 in a swift 72 minutes.
Her performance was only slightly longer than her post-match news conference, which she decided not to attend, opting instead for a statement delivered through a Team USA spokesperson.
Suddenly there was reason to wonder if something was wrong. Two Serena losses so close together? That's a rare thing.
"It's obviously disappointing but, you know, she played really well and I think the better player today won," Williams said in a statement instead of addressing the media, adding how important competing for her country is. "It was a career opportunity. It didn't work out the way I wanted to, but at least I was able to make it to Rio. That was one of my goals."
Williams will now turn her focus to reclaiming a title that she has won six times at the U.S. Open, as she looks to break her Open era Grand Slam record tie with Steffi Graf by winning a 23rd major. After suffering perhaps her most stunning loss ever in Flushing Meadows to the Italian Vinci last year, Serena has some unfinished business in New York.
"In a case like Serena, she hates losing more than she likes winning," Jensen said. "That's why she's arguably the greatest women's tennis player of all-time if not the greatest tennis player, men or women."
Again, Williams' Olympics disappointment is not "no big deal," especially to her. But if you compare the importance of Rio to a Grand Slam, the last time she lost this early at a major was 2014 Wimbledon. She has won five of eight Grand Slams since, making the final in two more.
Serena will be back, and perhaps ready to make history at the U.S. Open.