NEW YORK -- Venus Williams just watched as Sara Errani's winning shot zinged beyond her reach, shoulders slumping as the implications became clear. The No. 19 American had offered plenty of fight, had even been two points away from winning the match in the third set, but the Italian and No. 13 seed prevailed with a 6-0, 0-6, 7-6 (5) win in the third round of the US Open Friday.
"I think she's playing unbelievable," Errani said. "I really don't know how I won today."
Despite the loss, Williams has had a strong year. She reached the finals in Montreal and Auckland, and won in Dubai. It's the best Williams, 34, has played since she was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome in 2011.
"Future's looking bright," Williams said. "You know, I definitely wish I could have taken it further today. There will be others. I think the more I play, the better I'll be."
Williams had played a doubles match late Thursday night, which she admitted was "not ideal." Ultimately between singles and doubles, she played four matches in roughly 48 hours. After the loss to Errani, Williams had a late-afternoon doubles match with Serena, and the duo won in straight sets 6-2, 6-1. Venus called for a trainer during the doubles match.
"Once you play that much against really competitive players, you know, you have a few things here and there," Williams said. "So thankfully I just was able to continue the match. I really do not like injury timeouts. I just like to keep the flow of the match going."
As for her singles match, which played out in the sun and tricky wind of Arthur Ashe Stadium, it might as well have started in the third set. That's when both players rose to the occasion. Errani, 27, made up for her slower serve with creative net play, while Williams unleashed her winning backhand up the line to gain early momentum in the deciding set.
"Sometimes [it] is difficult to play against her because her serve is unbelievable," Errani said. "And even on the baseline with the forehand she [is] making a lot of points, so it's not easy to play against her."
A winner here in 2000 and 2001, Williams had the support of the fans, but they kept it fair. When one man yelled "Come on, Venus!" during Errani's service motion in the tiebreaker -- leading to a fault and a second serve -- the crowd booed him as Errani complained to the chair umpire.
In the tiebreaker, both women received standing ovations after winning points -- Williams after a backhand winner off one of Errani's drop shots to tie it at 5-5, and Errani with a volley winner on the next point.
"The crowd was amazing," Errani said. "Even if it was not for me, it was for her. But to hear that scream of all the people, I think I will remember always."
In the end, Williams had 52 unforced errors compared to Errani's 25. It would have been a difficult match to win given that difference, but Williams came as close as possible, gaining a promising 5-3 lead in the third set.
But she lost the next two games straight.