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Serena shocked in first-round upset; more French Open mail

PARIS -- SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim after Serena Williams' 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open.

SI.com: Serena came in as one of the hotter players on clay, what the heck happened?

Jon Wertheim: Good question. And we're still trying to process that in Paris. Serena came in as the favorite and her clay preparation was unimpeachable. She never - NEVER! - had lost in the first round of a major. She was up a set and 5-1 in the tiebreaker to a gallant but hardly formidable opponent. Then - WHAM! Razzano stole the set. Her confidence spiked while Serena's plummeted. Razzano ran off 13 straight points - when was the last time Serena capitulated like this? - and took a 5-0 lead in the third set.

Serena clawed back. She always does. But in an epic, 23-minute final game at 5-3, Razzano went for her shots and finally, after eight match points, prevailed. Incroyabel!

SI.com: Were there any lingering signs of injury, or was it a mental lapse?

Wertheim: No this was mental. Even between sets -- when the match was still very winnable -- Serena was crying. Neither movement nor conditioning was her downfall. To her credit, she ruled out any injuries afterward. "No, no, no, I didn't feel anything abnormal," she told reporters. "I was 100% healthy."

I think that at her age, she realizes there are a finite number of chances left, she - uncharacteristically - got tight for a spell. By the time she loosened up, it was too late.

SI.com: Did Razzano win it, or Serena lose it?

Wertheim: Glad you asked. The headline is "Serena loses" but I think Razzano deserves heaps of credit here. For half an hour she could scarcely miss. While she tightened once up 5-0, she didn't let the occasion overwhelm her -- as similar occasions have overwhelmed plenty of others similarly poised for a monumental upset. Sure, she needed eight match points to close out the match, but it wasn't as though she cowered or choked. She went for her shots, made Serena play a lot of balls and finally induced an error. Plus, she played through those hideous hindrances that could easily have unmoored her. A very courageous effort by Razzano and she deserves immense credit.

SI.com: What does this do for the women's draw?

Wertheim: Somewhere in a hotel suite, Maria Sharapova is doing an informal Dancing with the Stars tryout as we speak. Seriously, the draw was wide open. Now it is a canyon. A big opportunity for a lot of players. Can Victoria Azarenka consolidate her success from Australia? (Provided these voguish "hindrance calls" won't be her undoing.) With Serena - her one true nemesis out - can Sharapova get back on the board? Are there players emboldened by Razzano who will meet the moment? Plenty of plots left here.

SI.com: How did she respond to the loss? Will this affect her confidence for Olympics and grass?

Wertheim: Serena seemed almost shellshocked afterward. You asked "What the heck just happened?" and you get the feeling Serena is subjecting herself to a similar line of questioning.

"Well, I just started making a lot of errors," Serena said of the change of momentum in the second-set tiebreak. "I mean, the whole match, I just didn't play at all the way I have been practicing. .. It's disappointing. But it's life. Things could be a lot worse. I haven't had the easiest past six months. Nothing I can't deal with.

Let's end with a positive gloss for Serena. A) She's in a lot better place now than she was a year ago when an embolism threatened her career 2) Wimbledon begins in 27 days.

Mail call

Brian Baker. Wimbledon? Olympics? Davis Cup? -- Mike, Chicago

? Let's go pessimistic to optimistic. The Olympics won't happen. The Olympics are virtually an impossibility. That's just a numbers game. (Of course Baker reaching the second round of a major was a virtual impossibility, too.) The Davis Cup is a stretch, too. Hard to bounce the various players who not only have superior rankings but have been loyal for years.

Wimbledon? Now you're talking. Baker has missed the cutoff, so no matter how he fares in Paris, he'll have to qualify for the main draw. Unless he gets a wild card. What's that? They always go to British players, no matter how modestly ranked? Not necessarily. The LTA has been outspoken about stopping years of coddling and giving the wild cards to the most deserving players. After Lleyton Hewitt (a former champ, albeit a full decade ago) who's more deserving than Baker? Not only a great narrative -- Jeremy Lin, Kurt Warner and Andre Agassi rolled into one! -- but fully deserving on the basis of his results this year.

Baker, incidentally, will play at least one event on grass this summer. The Campbell's Hall of Fame event in Newport has already added him to a stacked field.

In light of Monday's happenings (see: Alex Bogomolov), I'm curious: What's the unspoken protocol on retiring from a match? If you're hurt, you're hurt, which is what the Russian maintained, but retiring while down match point seems like incredibly poor form. -- Dawn R., Chicago

? Several years ago, a player -- I can't recall whom -- pulled out of an important match on account of food poisoning. I recall thinking, "Take some Tums and try to play, baby." Of course, life being heavy into irony, shortly thereafter, I came down with food poisoning. Crawling from bedroom to bathroom, felt like competing in an Ironman. The thought of playing a competitive tennis match was laughable.

Which brings us to yesterday. It was a weird scene, no question. It struck most of us as somewhat shabby that Bogomolov couldn't have played one lousy additional point and let Clement win the match more authentically. (Who else thought of the Mauresmo-Henin Aussie Open final?) But clearly Bogomolov was in agony, his body betraying him badly after all the time on court. You question the severity of a player's discomfort at your peril. And let's give Clement his credit, too...

Has Arnaud Clement ever played anything less than a five-set match during the French Open? It seems whenever I see him he goes five tough sets, even though sometimes you get the feeling he does it for the show. -- Mulans, Riga

? I don't think anyone is going five sets for show. But Mulans' point is well-taken. Check out these results.

Jon, given the increasing economic uncertainty in Europe, are you aware if the European tournaments, including RG, are hedging their purses in order to avoid getting caught (or even potentially profiting) from a falling euro? Not the sexiest tennis question but curious currency geeks are going to be all over this. -- Neil Grammer, Toronto

? I beg to differ. Fluctuations in the currency market are inherently sexy. Arbitrage? So hot.

Where were we? Yeah, I'm not sure it's worth it for the tournaments to hedge since A) it's really not all that much money and B) it seems to me the tournaments are pretty hedged because their gate revenue, sponsorship revenue (and usually much of the TV revenue) is also denominated in the local currency. So, my guess is whatever they lose on the purse side from currency movements, they ought to more than make up on the same currency movements.

It probably makes more sense for the players to hedge, since they get only one side of the equation, no? Then again, I suppose on a global tour, the players are inherently hedged. If Serena Williams takes a hit when the dollar is weak, she makes up for it when the euro and British pound is strong. If Federer and Nadal suffer from a weak euro, they make up for it elsewhere. ... If any currency geeks have additional thoughts, fire away!

Petra Kvitova can slug her way, but not quite. Every time that she wins, she hits several amazing touch shots at crucial moments, and those are the difference. I refer you to Istanbul and the Fed Cup for evidence. Why is this missed in most reporting? -- Bobby Skipsey, Provincetown, Mass.

? This must be a hot message board topic or somesuch. A few months ago, a reader even compiled for us a greatest hits video of Kvitova slicing, volleying and deploying drop shots. I still say she is a slugger, not a grinder, not a stylist, not a counterpuncher. Kvitova -- who looked good today -- pounds the ball and while she may be capable of different gears, it's not her touch that will take her to the title.

Dear Mr. W: where do you stay in Paris? Not stalking you, just interested in what kind of perks tennis writers get. The photo you linked on Monday 28th is from some Chinese newspaper or magazine, and the original caption just says: "4 great ball stars at welcome dinner" or something close, without naming the stars or the sports... -- M Ng, Vancouver, Canada

? I'm staying at the corner of Rue McClananhan and Rue The Day. Seriously, when I travel for work in the U.S., I often tend toward conventional (boring) hostelries. I hoard Marriott points the way Nadal hoards ranking points during clay season. You know what you're getting. There's always a gym. There's always wireless. There's almost always Starbuck's in the lobby.

In Paris, though, I feel as though staying at a big hotel is the equivalent of eating at the Olive Garden in Manhattan. So I'm staying at a pension in the Sixth, a block off St. Germain. It's long on charm, short on amenities (and square footage) and is perfect for the occasion.

Shots, Miscellany

? Though not on par w/Gasquet-Baghdatis, the three-letter name abbreviation for Querrey-Tipsarevic (Que-tip) looked jarring on the screen.

? Another rough outing for Donald Young, who went down meekly to Grigor Dimitrov.

? Thaddeus Oliver, Naga, Philippines: "Jon, if I'm not mistaken the French dislike for Nadal stemmed from the Nadal-Grosjean match in 2005 where the crowd halted play in the 2nd set, booing for around 9 minutes over a controversial call against their countryman. Nadal said afterward ""The crowd yesterday didn't really behave as you should when you're watching a match of tennis, I've never seen anything like that in Spain, but this is France."

?Alex Gorbounov of Cary, NC wonders: Jon, can we just start using "clayer" instead of a mouthful "clay-court specialist"?

? Take that, equal prize money.

? Jan Kooijman of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, has Long lost siblings: Gilles Simon and Robert Pattinson.

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