Venus and Serena Williams' stunning first-round loss at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro may seem like the end of an era. Instead, it's a silver lining, especially for the former.
The Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova defeated the Williams sisters 6-3, 6-4 Sunday, handing the three-time doubles gold medalists their first defeat in Olympic competition.
They had just won the Wimbledon doubles title.
The loss could end Venus' quest for a fifth medal. Saturday, Venus suffered a heartbreaking three-set loss to Kirsten Flipkens in singles. Mixed doubles is still an option, but in a brief interview after Sunday's match, Venus spoke to ESPN.com's Jesse Washington about moving on: "Today was not our best day as a team. We like to have a chance to play into the tournament, we just played a tough team. So we wish them the best of luck in the rest of the event, and we'll get ready for the U.S. Open in doubles."
The Williams sisters weren't the only top-ranked doubles team to crash out in the first round. The women's No. 2 seed, Carolina Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, men's No. 1, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and men's No. 2 seed, Andy Murray and brother Jamie Murray, all lost.
It was a tough day for top seeds all around. Novak Djokovic left the court in tears after losing his first-round match to Juan Martin del Potro in singles.
Djokovic is still alive in doubles. But the Williams sisters are not, and that sounds strange for the Olympics.
Funnily enough, the loss may be the best thing that could have happened to Venus. A loss at the Olympics neither helps nor hurts Venus' WTA Tour ranking.
That's because the WTA doesn't award points for the Olympics. Venus will leave Brazil still ranked No. 6. What she gains is more time to rest up for the U.S. Open.
At 36, Venus was the oldest woman in the singles draw. Staying healthy at that age is tough enough. With Sjogren's syndrome, an immune-system disorder she has, the onset of illness must be daunting.
Instead of the symptomatic malaise Venus sometimes shows on the court, in Rio she struggled with something else. At times, she looked on the verge of vomiting.
After her loss to Flipkens, Venus skipped the post-match press conference. Team USA's coach, Mary Joe Fernandez, spoke to the assembled reporters instead:
Unfortunately, Venus has been sick for a few days, is really ill right now. She tried to get through that match – almost got to the finish line. But she’s been dehydrated, with some cramps, upset stomach. You probably could see on the court she’s coughing quite a bit. A bit of bad luck and bad timing that everything came together at this juncture for her. But she fought. She gave it her best out there.
Things didn't get any better for Venus in doubles. As Simon Briggs of the Daily Telegraph wrote: "What do you do if you are facing the best tennis player of all time in a doubles match? Hit it to her partner, of course."
They picked on big sis. When Serena tried to overcompensate, the Czechs exploited the wide-open court she left to help Venus.
So it's a quick trip home for Venus. She could use the rest and chalk Rio up as a bad detour on her 2016 WTA road trip.
Next stop: the U.S. Open.
Although played on hard courts, these Summer Games do not provide adequate preparation for the faster courts at the U.S. Open.
If fact, these slower courts make the hallmarks of Venus' game—winners and aces—so much tougher. After winning her singles match earlier in the day, Serena spoke with the Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press about having to adjust to the ultra slow courts: “Fortunately enough, I am a pretty good clay-court player, so I’m OK with the slow courts. You have to hit about three or four more shots or just play a little bit better. It’s OK. I’m getting used to the conditions as a whole.”
Hitting three or four more shots proved too taxing for Venus in her singles match. She led 4-1 in the final set before Flipkens mounted a comeback by hitting drop shots that forced Venus to sprint toward the net. Visibly ill, Venus started running out of steam as Flipkens gained confidence.
There was some speculation as to whether she'd be able to play doubles.
Even after a night's rest, Venus looked more like the sister who had played a singles match earlier in the day.
Now, Venus looks ahead to the U.S. Open, where she will enter at her highest ranking since 2011. Surely she'll be over whatever she came down with in Rio. As for the Olympics, this will be one Venus will want to forget.
She can use the early exit for more time to prep, recoup and regroup for the U.S. Open.
Of course, that silver lining is no substitute for a gold medal. But with all the notable no-shows and early upsets, Rio is turning out to be a dark cloud for many.
Serena's next opponent in singles is nemesis Alize Cornet. The Frenchwoman upset Williams in the third round of 2014 Wimbledon.
Later in 2014, at the U.S. Open, Venus lost an epic three-set match to Sara Errani. The sisters also fell in the quarterfinals of the doubles.
Serena went on to the win the U.S. Open, her only Grand Slam triumph that year. That was the start of four consecutive major wins, another Serena Slam.
Perhaps this nightmarish start to Rio will lead to better days and tournaments ahead for the Williams sisters.