NEW YORK, NY, USA - It may not have been the ending she - or the crowd - wanted, but Venus Williams showed a lot of guts on Armstrong Stadium on Wednesday, fighting back time after time and pushing the match to a third set tie-break before finally falling to an inspired Zheng Jie, 63 26 76(5).
A somewhat erratic Williams came out in the first set, outweighing 10 winners with 15 unforced errors. But she tidied her game up to take the second set, hitting 10 winners to just nine unforced errors.
Things looked daunting early on in the third set as Williams found herself down by a big way, serving at 1-4 and 15-40, double break point for 1-5 - but the former World No.1 started tightening the screws right when she needed to, reeling off five of the next seven games to push the set to a breaker.
Things could have gone either way at 5-all in that breaker, but a missed volley and a wide backhand sealed the deal for Zheng, who clinched a three-hour, two-minute win - the longest of the tournament.
"I definitely wish that I was playing the third round, but it's not to be for me this year," Williams said afterwards. "She just went for every shot. Unfortunately, I just didn't play consistently enough today.
"I tried. Really, she played well."
Williams was asked about that critical backhand volley she missed at 5-all in the tie-break.
"I should have made that shot. I think I was just rushing. I rushed so badly. I just didn't make the shot. You know, I had a lot of opportunities in the match. I was always stepping up and putting myself in a good position. So this is a great sign. I just wasn't really playing consistently enough out there.
"So I have to continue to play consistently throughout the match, throughout the games. I just dug myself into so many holes. I fought as hard as I could to get out of them, but it wasn't enough.
"But the atmosphere was amazing. The fans were really fantastic. I love that. I wish I could play some more for that. But obviously I'll be playing more for that in the doubles. I want to come back here just for that at this point - the fans were so behind me, I just enjoyed that tremendously. It was amazing."
What's next for Williams? "I have to play doubles, so that's what I have to focus on right now. The doubles will be good for me just to continue to hone my game and play better. That's my main focus.
"Maybe this fall I'm going to enter consecutive tournaments, so even if I do have a bad match I can hopefully play sooner so I can just get some rhythm. But I think there's a lot of positives for me out of this tournament. I continue to serve better and recover my back injury with each tournament."
Williams hinted at where she'll be playing this fall, too. "I think I'll go to Asia. I haven't been there in quite a few years because of injury and illness. I'm looking forward to that. I'd love to defend Luxembourg, too. I ended last year on an injured note, but a good note. So I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to pull everything together, get healthy as possible and continue to play."
Zheng's next opponent is No.18 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, who defeated American qualifier CoCo Vandeweghe earlier on, 63 64. Zheng has beaten Suárez Navarro in both of their previous meetings.