Serena Williams shows her frustration during her first-round loss to Virginie Razzano.
© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS -- The United States' leading lady, Serena Williams, is out of the Roland Garros draw. So what next?
After an incredible two days of tennis by the U.S. women, where they won 10 consecutive matches, America experienced a terrible Tuesday, with young Jamie Hampton retiring in the second set against Arantxa Rus with an injury, and then, shock of all shocks, the best player of her generation and certainly a top-three player in U.S. history went down, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, to veteran Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano on Court Philippe Chatrier, Roland Garros' center court.
It certainly was not the worst-looking loss of Williams' storied career, but it was the most surprising one at a major, as she came into the tournament on a roll, having won 17 straight matches on clay and having munched on the world's top two of Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in winning Madrid.
But while Serena has had great wins in France and loves Paris - she owns an apartment there -- she has also taken some harrowing defeats at Roland Garros. She missed last year's event, but in 2009 and 2010, she could not find her inner reserve in hard-fought losses to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur.
While she is a very good red-clay player and at times can be a great one, there are days when she cannot get her footing, doesn’t trust her shot selection and cannot dictate the way she likes to.
So when Serena got out to a 5-1 lead in the second-set tiebreaker against Razzano, she admittedly got a little nervous, made some mental errors, lost her way and eventually found herself down 5-0 in the third set.
Of course she fought back, made it close and forced Razzano to use eight match points to win the contest. But unlike the Serena of a few years ago, who would seize every opportunity by the jugular, she is still rebuilding her confidence and game after suffering a pulmonary embolism in February 2011 that nearly took her life.
"I tried," she said. "I kept going for my shots, which always works for me. It didn't work out today. I made so many errors today, which isn't the game that I've been playing in the past. You know, that's it. That's life."
Williams was not angry after the defeat, which for those who have followed Serena over the years, know has been pretty unusual at the majors.
But she is a 30-year-old now, and after winning 2010 Wimbledon and then cutting her feet up at a restaurant shortly afterward, which took her off the tour for 11 months, she has softened.
She still competes like hell, still hates to lose and still can play with the best in the world, but she does not see losing matches -- even first-round ones -- as reasons to slap herself upside her head.
If that loss had taken place five years ago, she would have crucified herself. This time, she accepted the defeat and looked ahead.
And why not? Not only has she had health issues, but so has her sister, Venus, who has been battling an autoimmune disease for at least the past year.
She will and can move on and said she is looking forward to winning her first mixed-doubles match with fellow American Bob Bryan.
"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."
There are still 10 U.S. women left in the draw, including Venus, so Roland Garros still must be given serious attention.
While Serena has not won a major since 2010 Wimbledon, do not expect her to drop though the favorites floor when the All-England Club opens its doors next month. Yes, her confidence has been shaken. But she has been there before and will recover. Wimbledon is ahead and there, there will be no slippery red clay to get all over her clothes and into her head.
"I've just got to figure out what I did wrong and not do it again, you know, learn from it," she said. "I think that's the best thing I can do."