Razzano Digs Deep, Serena Out

French Open 2012
By Hiland Doolittle, May 30th, 2012

In what promises to be a French Open filled with upsets, none will loom larger than Virginie Razzano’s compelling three set first round triumph over the bookmaker favorite and five seed Serena Williams.

Virginie Razzano

Virginie Razzano defeated Serena Williams

This was a wild match with big swings of emotion, but in the end the home-standing Razzano fed off a wild crowd and came back from the a 5-1 deficit in the second set tiebreaker to topple the 13-time Grand Slam Winner. Razzano’s victory is a feel-good moment for the 29-year old whose fiancé and coach, Stephane died unexpectedly one year ago. Since that tragedy, Virginie’s ranking has plunged and she has been unable to get back in the top 20.

The combination of a Roland Garros match against the tourney favorite put Razzano in a great “no-lose” situation. Williams has not lost a first round Grand Slam match in 47 matches. She has also won 17 consecutive clay court matches and despite defaulting two weeks ago in a semifinal match, she arrived in Paris fit and ready to play.

Razzano came out firing and did not show the nerves that plague many of Serena’s opponents. Virginie was moving well and was able to move Serena laterally deep behind the baseline. Her comeback was testimony to her determination. After having the first set on her racket, she gave a break away and then double faulted on set point. That would have unnerved most of Serena’s foes. But, this opponent knew something. She knew was winning rallies by making Serena hit the extra ball and she knew she could break Serena’s invincible serve, which she did four times.

Razzano played aggressively. She took Serena’s serve on the rise moving inside the baseline. She hit her groundstrokes with great pace and deep. Razzano had 36 unforced errors, 11 less than the fifth seed. Virginie landed 66 percent of her first serves compared to just 53 percent by Williams.

But, most importantly, Razzano came through in the clutch and Serena failed to close the match. In the second set, Razzano had the pressure of having to hold to stay in the match. She did. But, in the tiebreaker, Williams cruised to a 5-1 lead. It seemed the day was done. Amazingly, the Frenchwoman ran off six straight points to send the Philippe Chatrier court into a frenzy. At 5-3 in the tiebreaker, Williams watched a lob she could have played go over her head and land on the baseline. After fighting off four match points, Razzano had the crowd in her pocket. When Razzano squared the tiebreaker, pandemonium broke out.

The staggering comeback lingered on in the final set. The crowd sensed something big was happening here. Virginie raced to a 5-0 lead. Serena began the climb back holding twice around a critical break.

Razzano knew her heavily favored adversary would not go away quietly. In one of the greatest games ever played under such pressure, Williams fought off eight match points in a 20 minute final game. The crowd roared, then slumped. Williams challenged every ball. Razzano made big shots. It was clear that whoever won this game was going to win the match. After Razzano gained her ninth match point, she drove a return to Williams who ventured a mean cross court backhand that just missed the line.

It was too much for the French crowd. This was an unbelievably courageous match, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, by a player that could have folded at any time. It was also a credit to Williams who made no excuses, took the loss in stride and credited her opponent, France’s newest Grande Dame.


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