The 37-year-old American rallied back from a set down against Karolina Pliskova and was leading 5-1 in the final set before losing six games in a row to crash out 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
It was a cruel blow for a woman who has been chasing Margaret Court’s 24 Slams since winning in Melbourne in 2017 while pregnant, then taking time off to have a baby before returning to Grand Slam action at the French Open last year.
She insisted another major win was still achievable despite the clock ticking.
“I mean, the big picture for me is always winning. I’m not going to sit here and lie about that,” she said.
“But it hasn’t happened yet, but I feel like it’s going to happen. Just keep taking it one match at a time, just keep soldiering on, I guess.”
Williams admitted that having a year off and then returning to high-level tennis had not been easy for someone who expected to bounce straight back to her old winning ways.
She said she has had to temper her expectations.
“It’s definitely not easy for me. From day one, I expect to go out and, quite frankly, to win. That hasn’t happened,” she said.
“But I do like my attitude. I like that I don’t want to go out here and say, ‘I expect to lose because I had a year off, I’ve been playing for 10 months. I’m not supposed to win’.
“I don’t have that attitude. I have the attitude of, ‘I’ve only been playing 10 months, but I expect to win, and if I don’t, it’s disappointing’.
– No excuses –
“I rather think of it that way and know that it’s going to happen sooner or later than making an excuse for myself. I don’t like making excuses.”
Against Pliskova, Williams rolled her ankle when serving for the match at 5-1, but refused to blame it for what happened afterwards, where she failed to win another point on serve in the match.
She said the big-serving Czech seventh seed was simply too good on the crunch points and she had learned lessons from the experience.
“I know there’s a lot of things that I need to do, a lot of things I need to do to get better, a lot of maybe more just matches,” she said, adding that losing doesn’t get any easier.
“I don’t really take losses well. But, like I said, Karolina literally played lights out starting 5-1, 40-30. Literally I’ve never seen anything like it.
“If anything, I think that’s a little bit easier to know, ‘Okay, next time I’m up 5-1 against anybody, whether it’s her or anyone, I just need to make sure I play lights out when I have match point’.”