by Martyn Wood
PARIS - Serena Williams said she was looking forward to Wimbledon after her latest quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title ended with a loss to Elena Rybakina in the French Open last 16 on Sunday.
The 39-year-old American went down 6-3, 7-5 at Roland Garros to the Kazakh 21st seed, leaving her still one short of Margaret Court's all-time record for most Grand Slam singles titles.
She has not gone beyond the fourth round at Roland Garros since losing the 2016 final, the year after capturing the last of her three titles in Paris. Her last major triumph came at the 2017 Australian Open while she was pregnant.
"I'm kind of excited to switch surfaces, but historically I have done pretty well on grass," said Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon singles champion.
"I have done pretty well on clay too. Just not this particular season."
Williams became the eighth top-10 seed in the women's draw to depart, outmuscled by the Russian-born Rybakina who was appearing in the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.
"It was definitely close. I'm so close. There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match," said Williams.
"I'm not winning those points. That like literally could just change everything."
Despite arriving in Paris with just one win on clay this season, Williams had seen her title hopes boosted by the absence of Simona Halep, and early exits of Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.
Instead, she was knocked out by an opponent who was just two months old when Williams won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in September 1999.
"I'm in a much better place than when I got here," Williams said.
"You know, (I was) just literally trying to win a match, because it had been a really difficult season for me on the clay."
Asked whether it could be her last French Open, a smiling Williams gave little away.
"I'm definitely not thinking about it at all," she said.
"I'm definitely thinking just about other things but not about that."
Rybakina, 21, extended her best run at a major as she advanced to her first quarter-final, where she will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the last four.
"I am so happy with my match, it was amazing," said Rybakina, who at 22 is the highest-ranked player left in her half of the draw.
"Of course I was nervous, I was not serving that well in the game before, but I am happy that I managed to control them in the end."
Far from being overawed by the occasion, Rybakina's powerful hitting put Williams on the receiving end of treatment she has dealt out to countless rivals over the past two decades.
"I was small, of course I was watching her matches on TV. So many Grand Slams," said Rybakina, who had called Williams a "legend of the sport" going into their first meeting.
"It's difficult to expect anything, because you watch on TV and that's completely different when you come on court and you feel the power and everything.
"I knew that the serve was going to be difficult for me to return. She's powerful, but I was ready. Then after few points I felt it comfortable, so nothing."