London: Defending champion Serena Williams put a brave face on her fourth round Wimbledon exit here Monday before admitting she was devastated at her defeat to French ninth seed Marion Bartoli.
Four-time winner Williams, who has only recently returned to tennis after a year-long lay-off because of health and injury problems, was downed 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) by Bartoli to suffer her earliest Wimbledon departure for six years.
The 29-year-old former world number one said before the tournament she was merely happy to be playing again after a miserable 12 months.
But she rejected suggestions that her exit on Monday had been easier to take given the struggles she had gone through simply to get in shape for Wimbledon.
"I'm more devastated than ever," Williams said. "I'm just a really good actress. I'm a much better actress now.
"I never came here thinking I would lose. That's, you know, my attitude. You know, you win some and you lose some. Today just happened to be the one that slipped under me."
Nevertheless Williams was able to take some positives from her campaign, and warned that she was determined to recapture her best form.
"I think I did really well, you know, just being able to come back and play and win some matches and just really play tough. Even today I lost, but I was able to kind of hang in there and play tough.
"And I can only get better. And that can potentially be really scary, because I can only go up from here and I can just do so much more."
Bartoli was made to battle every inch of the way however as the typically dogged Williams saved three match points in the 12th game of the second set to force a tie-break.
Williams saved a fourth match point in the tiebreak but Bartoli conjured up a booming serve to convert her fifth and advance.
The first set went with serve until the sixth game, when Bartoli grabbed the all-important break to edge ahead 4-2, which swiftly became 5-2 after the Frenchwoman held to love.
Williams fought off three set points in her next service game before holding to narrow the gap to 5-3. The American was then gifted a break point in the ninth game when Bartoli double-faulted.
Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up, showed great composure to fight back however, holding off two more break points from Williams before converting her sixth set point with an ace.
The second set went with serve until the 11th game when Williams was broken to give Bartoli a 6-5 lead.
Bartoli's supporters were then put through the wringer as she squandered three match points as Williams broke back to force a tiebreak.
But Bartoli, who had banished her father from the viewing box during her third round match on Saturday, held her nerve in the tie-break, wrapping up victory when Williams could only return a booming serve into the net.
First Published: Monday, June 27, 2011, 22:01