2012 French Open: Serena stunned by Razzano

By IndepthAfrica
In Sports
May 29th, 2012
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Serena Williams of the US squats on the clay in her first round match against Virginie Razzano of France at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Tuesday May 29, 2012. Razzano won in three sets, 6-4, 6-7. 3-6. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Serena Williams was many analysts’ favorite to win her second Roland Garros as she came into the tournament on a 17 match-winning streak on clay. But the 13-time Grand Slam champion did not expect an out of this world performance from French veteran Virginie Razzano, who handed the fifth seed her first loss in the first round of a Grand Slam in 47 tournaments in a stirring 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 victory.

Razzano needed eight match points to close out the wildly up and down contest, which saw Serena start slow; Razzano double fault down set point in the first set; Serena unable to hold onto a 5-1 lead in the second set tiebreaker; Razzano race out to a 5-0 lead in the third set and then watch Serena claw back; and then need to contest a 20-minute plus final game in front of a charged up crowd to close out the match.

It was a career win for the 29-year-old Razzano, whose fiancée and coach Stephane died at a young age last May and who has since struggled to find her former top 20 form.

For Serena, who is arguably- one of the greatest five players ever — it was perhaps her most stunning loss at a major since she became a Grand Slam champion for the first time at the 1999 US Open. Sure, she had gagged a set and 5-2 lead against former Roland Garros champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at 1998 , but she was just a baby then. The unsung Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik knocked her out of the third round of the French in 2008 when Serena had been in reasonably good form that season, but she did not enter that Roland Garros undefeated on clay. There were losses to Jill Craybas at Wimbledon and Elena Likhovsteva at the Aussie Open, but her health was questionable in both those matches.

No excuses for Serena

This time, she was fit, eager and in good form and made some bad decisions in the tiebreaker, stopping play at 5-3 on a lob that hit the baseline that she easily could have played. She was late to the ball, stopped moving inside the court to dictate and was indecisive. “I’m always a little nervous in every match I play, which I think is a little bit healthy,” said Serena, who appeared to cry after she lost the tiebreak. “I think it’s normal. I was definitely a little nervous. But, yeah, there’s no excuse maybe. I thought [the ball] out, and then it wasn’t. So…”

Razzano played a relentless, hard-hitting style that kept Williams off balance. Serena, who is still one of the most powerful players on tour, rarely dictated the way she wanted to. While chair umpire chair Eva Asderaki called Razzano for hindrance three times in the match, and the Frenchwoman was clearly shaking at times during the last game, she still managed to fight off five break points, including nailing an ace out wide on one of them.

She finally won the contest when Serena barely missed a backhand crosscourt and a packed house at Court Philippe Chattier celebrated wildly. Serena, who nearly died last year after suffering a pulmonary embolism, admitted to being disappointed, but at the age of 30 is no longer the young girl who quickly grows depressed and becomes maudlin.

“It’s life,” Serena said. “Things could be a lot worse. I haven’t had the easiest past six months. Nothing I can’t deal with. I’m not happy, by no means. I just always think things can be worse.”

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