Venus Williams plays a backhand during her fourth round singles match against Nadia Petrova at the French Open. Petrova upset Williams 6-4, 6-3. (Getty Images)
So much for the thought that she and her younger sister Serena, the tournament's two top-seeded women, could deliver another all-Williams Grand Slam final.
Displaying little of the spark or strokes she regularly produces on grass and hard courts, and playing little like someone with the tour's best 2010 winning percentage, Williams stalled on the red clay of Roland Garros yet again Sunday, exiting in the fourth round with a 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 19 Nadia Petrova.
"I don't think the conditions are always ideal here. ... You might not be used to it or you might not get a good bounce," said the No. 2-seeded Williams, who began the day 29-4 this season, including 15-2 on clay. "That's just the way this tournament goes."
For her, anyway. The American's seven major titles all came at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, and only once has she made it to the semifinals in 14 French Open appearances - back in 2002, when she lost to Serena in the championship match.
Williams complained about the temperatures in the 50s and swirling winds that reached 15 mph, and wore a long-sleeved top over her much-discussed black lace dress. She didn't exactly heap praise on Petrova, now a win away from reaching her third French Open semifinal.
"I don't think she did anything super special," Williams said, "but she just played a little bit more consistently."
Actually, Petrova concurred with that assessment, calling her own play "solid."
"I came up with the good shots when it was necessary," she said. "That's it. I don't think I've done anything spectacular today."
Petrova, who was 0-4 previously against Williams, has developed a reputation for having trouble closing out matches. But she derived confidence from two recent victories: against Serena Williams on clay at Madrid this month, and against No. 15 Aravane Rezai in the third round at Roland Garros.
Petrova will face No. 5 Elena Dementieva in an all-Russian quarterfinal. Dementieva ended the surprising stay of 131st-ranked qualifier Chanelle Scheepers, the first South African woman in the fourth round at Roland Garros since 1997, by winning 6-1, 6-3.
Williams is still in the women's doubles tournament with her sister, but it seems likely that her participation in this French Open will be remembered more for a sartorial statement than any spectacular strokes.
Even Petrova weighed in.
"I must say: The dress that Venus wore - you must have a little guts to do that," she said.
Williams designed the corset-like outfit that drew so much attention, and said she'll "retire" it after this event. That doesn't mean she won't come up with something else buzz-worthy.
"Each and every day, on and off the court, on the match court and the practice court, I'm always pushing the envelope," Williams said. "But, you know, I have to wait until next year."
A familiar refrain for her at Roland Garros.