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Serena Williams came into the French Open for the first time in her career as the overwhelming favourite. Despite winning the title in 2002 in what was the first step of the 'Serena Slam', the younger of the two Williams sisters was never really the kind of player whose game was ideally suited to clay. However, victories on the surface at Charleston and Madrid earlier this season saw her emerge through the summer unbeaten on clay, her only 'defeats' coming through withdrawals. Her opponent on Tuesday was supposed to be cannon fodder - a 29-year old Frenchwoman well past her prime, who had made 7 first round exits at Roland Garros, and looked on course for no.8 when her lucky 13th attempt at her home Grand Slam drew her against an in-form 13-time Grand Slam champion in Serena Williams.
The beginning of the first set proved to be a topsy-turvy affair as both players struggled with their footwork in slippery conditions on Court Philippe Chatrier. Service turned out to be a liability as both women were broken four times within the first eight games itself. Initially, Serena struggled more with her footing which manifested in the form of unforced errors - her tally was as high as 15 after the first 6 games. Visibly frustrated, Serena's first serve percentage also started to plummet. The American's lackluster play combined with the Virginie's controlled aggression gave the unseeded Frenchwoman a 4-2 lead. This proved to be just the wake up call the American required as the favourite reeled off 4 consecutive games breaking her opponent twice in the process, with a series of powerful returns to take the first set 6-4.
The Second set in contrast saw no break of serve as Serena's offensive first serve return positioning caused her to miss many returns and the power and placement of the American's serve, likewise, prevented Razzano from breaking serve. Unforced errors continued to leak from the racquet of Serena as her movement, especially forward movement, still seemed below-par. Nevertheless, she was able to force a tiebreak serving to stay in the second set. The tiebreaker proved to be a roller coaster of momentum shifts with the American grabbing the initiative with her array of punishing groundstrokes jumping to a 5-1 lead. Razzano, out of nowhere, took the next six points, three of which were disputed by Serena but the umpire got the decisions spot on each time. Razzano nicked the tiebreak 7-5, and much to the delight of the home fans there was a match suddenly on.
As news of Razzano's fightback spread around Roland Garros, the empty seats on Court Philippe Chatrier suddenly started filling up with the terraces packed to the rafters. A crowd more akin to a football match got right behind the local girl and cheered every single point she won.
The momentum shift appeared complete as Razzano jumped away to a 5-0 lead in the final set, and Serena looked dead and burried with her usually reliable backhand completely deserting her. However, Serena wasn't done yet and with the typical resolve of a Williams refused to accept the reality the scoreboard presented her. Playing the match a point at a time, Serena held serve, broke Razzano and then held serve again to close the gap right back up to 3-5 in the final set.
What followed next was the most incredible nerve-wracking game that one is likely to witness at the French Open this year as two women who just refused to quit battled it out over the next 23 minutes. Controversial umpiring decisions, cramps, slips, nervy double faults, shanked forehands, five breakpoints and eight match points later, Virginie Razzano skipped in delight as Court Philippe Chartier roared its approval at the triumph of the local favourite as a backhand from Serena floated narrowly long.
Razzano will next take on Dutch youngster Arantxa Rus, who caused an upset of her own last year by beating Kim Clijsters. Rus had a considerably shorter day at the office against American Jamie Hampton in her first round match. Rus was leading 6-4, 4-3 when Hampton retired.
Other late winners on day 3 included former world no.1 Caroline Wozniacki, who showed some form of old, hammering Greek girl Eleni Daniildou 6-0, 6-1. Maria Kirilenko, the 16th seed, and Kaia Kanepi, seeded 23rd also advanced to round 2.
Singles - First Round
Virginie Razzano (FRA) d. (5) Serena Williams (USA) 46 76(5) 63
(9) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) d. Eleni Daniilidou (GRE) 60 61
(16) Maria Kirilenko (RUS) d. (WC) Victoria LarriÃ¨re (FRA) 61 62
(22) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) d. Greta Arn (HUN) 64 64
(23) Kaia Kanepi (EST) d. Alexandra Panova (RUS) 63 63
(28) Peng Shuai (CHN) d. Tamira Paszek (AUT) 64 63
Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) d. Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) 36 60 63
Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) d. (WC) Aravane Rezai (FRA) 75 57 62
Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) d. Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) 63 41 ret.
Urszula Radwanska (POL) d. Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 64 63
Ayumi Morita (JPN) d. Polona Hercog (SLO) 36 64 63
Arantxa Rus (NED) d. Jamie Hampton (USA) 64 43 ret.
Lourdes DomÃnguez Lino (ESP) d. Marina Erakovic (NZL) 75 75
Melinda Czink (HUN) d. Anne Keothavong (GBR) 61 62
File Photograph Copyright: Madrid Open
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