When fates collide. PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/GettyImages via Daylife
Well, we have ourselves the match of the tournament, the match all others will be measured against, at least in terms of drama. I was late to work this morning, waiting out the first set. Once I saw Serena had found a way to take it from Virginie Razzano, 6-4, I was satisfied that the players would settle into their predetermined roles and finish the match the way the Tennis Gods ordained: the great Champion overcomes some first round rust, the feisty underdog succumbs, the tennis writers mention a tight first set but ultimately a smooth passage for the tournament favorite.
Oh yeah, but there’s a reason we actually watch these matches, right? And more important, perhaps, there’s a reason the players actually play them: shit happens.
Sorry to be crude, but that’s the real take away from Razzano’s 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over Serena Williams in the first round of Roland Garros on Tuesday. Sure, I noticed that Razzano played beautiful, measured tennis for most of the match, that Serena played impatiently and with an unhealthy sense of disbelief, and that chair umpire Eva Asderaki has an uncanny knack for making things difficult on herself. (A reporter asked Serena in the post match presser if seeing Eva was like seeing a nightmare, and it seemed like a reasonable enough question.)
Even knowing the result as I watched the last two sets on tape after work, I found it difficult to believe that Serena Williams couldn’t find a way to win this. It was the perfect set-up for Serena: the crowd against her, the second set tiebreaker slipping through her fingers, Razzano’s inability to serve out the match while Serena saved all those match points. At any moment Serena would paint the lines with one of those second serve returns and put the cramping Razzano back in her rightful place of 111th in the world. That’s the way it had to be, right? We’d all heard at least once per changeover that Serena hadn’t lost a first round at a Major in any of her previous 46 appearances.
I think on some level Serena felt the same way. From her presser:
Q. Do you want to talk about the last game? You climbed back to 5‑3. I think five or six break‑point opportunities. Couldn’t get over the hump?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I tried. I kept going for my shots which always works for me.
Q. Did you sort of feel the match slipping away? Could you talk about that?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Um, yeah, no, I never really feel anything slipping away or anything. I just ‑‑ I just felt I couldn’t get a ball in play. You know, when I did ‑‑ I just felt like I was hitting late and, I mean, how can you hit late on a clay court? It was kind of odd.
Q. What was going on in your head in that incredible last game? What were some of your thoughts?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I thought, you know, just staying, get it back to deuce. Then I thought, whatever you do, don’t get it back to deuce at one point, couple times.
But that didn’t work. I just was thinking, okay, if I could break here, then we’ll be back on serve. You know, those are the kind of things that are going through your head.
So while Serena was convinced she would find a way to win – heck, Azarenka had managed it in her own first round disaster – Virginie had her own plan mapped out. Screw the tennis world order, she was going to mess with fate and remind all of us that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in tennis. Her post match remarks via The Times of India:
“Was it destiny for me to win tonight? I don’t know but I wanted to win so much.”
“I was cramping at the end but I knew I could beat her. I said ‘don’t give up’. I couldn’t sleep properly for three nights before the match. I even watched Serena on Google and YouTube. I kept telling myself that when I step on court I could do it, I could win.”
That doesn’t sound like destiny, that sounds like preparation. Tennis writers, of course, can’t resist retelling the story of Virginie’s late fiance, who died just before last year’s event. As if such a tragedy could help explain today’s result, or at least tie it up in a pretty, poetic bow.
“Perhaps fate came back to console Razzano with a gift she would not have been able to appreciate nearly as much had she been awarded it a year ago, when her big wound was still so fresh.” Peter Bodo wrote in his dramatic retelling of the match. “It was a great day to be Virginie Razzano, and you might say life owed her one of those.“
Virginie’s less sentimental take: “Honestly, the past is the past. . .I did my mourning.”
Today wasn’t about fate, or karma or help from the other side. It was about tennis. And its first rule: you gotta play.