WIMBLEDON, England - Venus Williams, in bad straits, was able on Tuesday to walk toward her family in the third and fourth rows to seek assistance between points.
"Why is it flying?" she asked, about a particularly wayward backhand.
"Stay low, stay down, look at it," answered her sister, Serena, between text messages.
With this bit of sage advice - should it count as illegal coaching? - Venus was able to rescue her Wimbledon tournament with a 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 first-round victory over a teenaged Russian rookie, Alla Kudryavtseva.
"Sometimes you just need that support, simple things, not any coaching, just encouraging words," Venus said.
Venus was down a set and a break, 0-2 and love-30 in the second set. She was down a break again in the third set, 1-3, after blowing an overhead and netting a forehand. She was within two points of losing the match at 4- 5 in that same third set and felt that she had been cheated on a line call.
Somehow, just barely, Williams gained control of her nerves and her baseline game.
"They were just going out," Venus said, of her groundstrokes. "I had to take a little off the ball, put a little spin on it."
It was not a great day for the Americans all around, just another series of moments to lament the passing of a once-powerful tennis nation. There are only two U.S. men remaining in the second round, Andy Roddick and James Blake. The women are faring only a bit better.
The failures of the U.S. players on Tuesday were not at all surprising, as most foreign seeds advanced without problems. Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo and Rafael Nadal moved on uneventfully.
One American, the ninth-seeded Blake, had an easy day against Igor Andreev. It helped considerably that Blake's serve was very much working.
He lost only three points on his serve in a 39-point first set, on the way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Andreev.
Both Blake and Roddick had gone out in the first round of the French Open, along with all seven other Americans. Blake ardently defended U.S. tennis, taking on critics back home.
"I think we've got a long way to go to appease the American public's ideas of what it takes to have a good American tennis scene right now," said Blake, wearing the cap of his favorite baseball team, the Mets. "I think it's pretty darn good with two players in the top 10, Andy being the third seed here, and we've got the Bryans (doubles team) as a top seed. I think tennis in America is doing great."