Serena Williams was dumped out in the first round of the French Open as unseeded home hope Virginie Razzano served up one of the biggest shocks in Roland Garros history.
Razzano, the world number 111, defeated the fifth seed and 13-time grand slam winner 4-6 7-6 (7/5) 6-3 in an epic tussle that lasted three hours and three minutes.
Williams’ first defeat in the opening round of a grand slam event came amid occasionally controversial scenes on Court Philippe Chatrier, with Razzano twice penalised for “hindrance” after crying out in pain during points as she laboured with a leg injury — much to the annoyance of her many supporters.
Razzano finally prevailed in a 23-minute, 13-deuce final game, the 29-year-old converting match point at the eighth time of asking.
“I just started making a lot of errors. Just the whole match, I didn’t play at all the way I have been practicing,” a subdued Williams said afterward of her 47 unforced errors.
It was clear from the start of the late-afternoon match that this would not be vintage Williams, the player who won the 2002 French Open and 12 other slam titles.
She never looked comfortable, showing frustration throughout, and even shed a few tears during the break between the second and third sets.
The tension and drama were everywhere: Razzano started cramping in her right leg in the second set and continued to experience symptoms through the third; Williams visibly struggled to keep the ball in play; and Razzano battled her nerves trying to close the match out.
The final game, which lasted nearly 25 minutes, was the most gut-wrenching.
It went to deuce 12 times on Razzano’s serve, and Williams held off seven match points before the Frenchwoman finally triumphed.
“I tried, I kept going for my shots, which worked for me in the past, but it didn’t work out today,” Williams said.
“I just wasn’t... I just made too many errors today. That’s not the way I have been playing. It’s life.”
In the men’s section, a relaxed Rafael Nadal strolled into the second round with a 6-2 6-2 6-1 victory over Italian Simone Bolelli.
The Spaniard is always his own harshest critic and often struggles in the early rounds of grand slams, but there were no such alarms for Nadal yesterday, with his only slightly sticky patch coming when he lost two games in a row from 4-0 in the second set and had to save break points to avoid giving away a third.
Nadal said: “I was less stressed compared with last year. I was a bit frightened, but I think I took control. I felt comfortable.
“I made a mistake when it was 6-2 4-0, and I had a series of good shots. Then I lost control and then it was 4-2. He wanted to break me, but he couldn’t for the third time. Then afterwards I felt really comfortable.
“It’s a court that’s not easy to play on, but the longer you stay on the court, the better it is.
“It’s the first week, and I think it’s one of my best first rounds at Roland Garros.”
Nadal meets Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in round two.
Nadal’s compatriot David Ferrer, the sixth seed, is expected to put up a good showing at Roland Garros this year and he began in fine style with a 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory over Lukas Lacko.
British No 1 Andy Murray beat Japanese debutant Tatsuma Ito 6-1 7-5 6-0, while home favourite Richard Gasquet beat Estonian qualifier Jurgen Zopp 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7/4).
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