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Venus Williams exits on rough day for Americans

When Venus Williams won her semifinal at last year’s Australian Open, her joy was there for all to see.

Typically understated in victory, Williams on that occasion dropped her racket, pirouetted and skipped to the net. A double pirouette soon followed and you couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. It set the tone for a fine 2017 season, even if the evergreen Williams lost to younger sister Serena in the final.

But handed with a tough draw at this year’s Australian Open, the seven-time grand slam champion couldn’t replicate her success at Melbourne Park and was upset by a resurgent Belinda Bencic 6-3 7-5 on what was a tough day for Americans overall to kick off the year’s first major.

With Serena skipping the tournament because the record 23-time grand slam winner isn’t yet ready to return to tournament play four months after giving birth to a first child, it means no Williams sister in the second round of a major — a rarity.

US woe

Joining the 37-year-old in making early exits were Sloane Stephens — who hasn’t won a match since claiming the US Open in September — and CoCo Vandeweghe. All three made the semifinals in New York.

The fourth American semifinalist at Flushing Meadows, Madison Keys, is still in contention — she won’t play her opener until Tuesday.

Of 10 Americans who finished their first-round matches Monday, only one — Ryan Harrison — prevailed. Brisbane finalist Harrison needed five sets to fend off Dudi Sela.

Another player who had success in New York was also eliminated, men’s finalist Kevin Anderson. The US-based South African fell to the lone British man in the draw in the absence of the injured Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund, 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4.

Anderson’s conqueror in New York, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, faces Victor Estrella Burgos in Monday’s night session.