The 2012 French Open got an infusion of drama late Tuesday when 13-time Grand Slam title winner Serena Williams suffered a stunning first-round loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France. The 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 upset was Williams’ worst Grand Slam defeat in 47 appearances.
It looked like Williams, the tournament’s fifth seed, had the late evening match at Roland Garros under control when she led by a set and 5-1 in the second set tiebreaker. She was two points from victory nine times in that set.
But Williams lost momentum after stopping a point in the tiebreak, erroneously believing Razzano’s shot had sailed long. Then Razzano, the darling of the Paris crowd after playing the 2011 French Open just days after her fiancé and coach died from cancer, managed to reel off the next six points to level the tie and ultimately force a third set.
Williams entered the day with a 46-0 record in first-round matches at Grand Slam tournaments. It was her first opening-round loss and earliest exit since losing in the second round to her sister Venus in her majors debut at the 1998 Australian Open. She had been looking for her 14th major title, and second at Roland Garros and was visibly upset, even appearing to cry while sitting court side during the changeover.
Williams then fell to pieces during the deciding set, slipping two breaks down to trail, 4-0. She had to regather when umpire Eva Asderaki, with whom she famously clashed during her 2011 United States Open final defeat against Samantha Stosur, ordered the first point of the fifth game to be replayed.
Razzano proceeded to serve an ace to lead, 5-0, but the drama did not stop there. Williams clawed her way back to 3-5 and had a break point when Asderaki punished Razzano for hindrance. She saved it and went to match point, which she squandered on a double fault.
Eight match points later, after 3 hours and 3 minutes of action, Razzano finally got the epic win when Williams sent a return long.
“I fought until the end,” Razzano told the crowd after a three-hour struggle. “You gave me your energy. I’m going to have to rest. Thank you all for your support.”
Williams’s problems were largely her own doing. She committed 47 unforced errors to 36 for the Frenchwoman.
A lot of tennis fans believe Serena is a poor sport whose emotional outbursts are childish – which may well be true – but it’s always difficult to watch a powerhouse like Serena suffer such a devastating loss.
On the other hand, kudos to Razzano who will now face Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands for a place in the Round of 32. On any given day, there’s a winner and a loser and Razzano clearly had a big win today.