ROME -- Upsets and near-upsets dominated the news Wednesday in the second round of the Italian Open, where Serena Williams survived but John Isner, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki all tumbled out of the last significant lead-up tournament to the French Open.
A boisterous Italian crowd watched hometown favorite Andrea Seppi knock off Isner 2-6, 7-6 (5) 7-5 at the Foro Italico's Court Pietrangeli. The picturesque court, which is sunk into the ground and surrounded by marble statues, has fast become my favorite non-Slam No. 3 venue because of the noisy atmosphere it generates. Add in the presence of an Italian like Seppi, and any player would feel like he's playing a Davis Cup match.
(UPDATE: Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the Italian Open with a shoulder injury.)
Isner was understandably devastated after a second straight early departure. The 27-year-old American saved 11 consecutive break points before finally dropping serve at 5-5 in the third set, a break that proved decisive. Unless he takes a wild card into next week's tournament in Nice, France, Isner will head into Roland Garros with only one victory from tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome. Not great for a guy whose confidence on European clay was soaring only a month ago.
Earlier in the day, Petra Cetkovska eliminated Radwanska 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, joining No. 1 Victoria Azarenka as the only players to beat the world No. 3 this year. Radwanska complained afterward about fatigue and back problems due to her heavy workload on clay, but, oddly, she's still confirmed to play a WTA event in Brussels next week. The smart move would be to withdraw and give her body a rest before the French Open. Clay is Radwanska's worst surface, and playing through her weariness could hamper her grass season. Why risk it?
As for Wozniacki, her beau, Rory McIlroy, flew all the way here for nothing. The former No. 1, who hasn't won a title all year and has seen her ranking drop to No. 8, retired to Anabel Medina Garrigues trailing 6-4, 4-0 because of an upper respiratory illness.
Rounding out a day of upsets, Julia Goerges routed No. 7 seed Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-1, and Stanislas Wawrinka rolled over eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-1.
As for the near-upsets, Williams came back to defeat Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Petrova, who is coached by Ricardo Sanchez (the man who questioned the Williams sisters' desire last week), came flying out of the gate and it took Serena some time to reel her back in. While the Russian grew visibly frustrated as the match progressed, Williams remained eerily calm even though she wasn't at her best. She finished her first-round match at midnight on Tuesday and the quick turnaround affected her performance.
"When I saw the schedule, I said, 'Oh, my God, are you serious?'" Williams said. "That's life. You just have to be able to adjust and make the best of it, and so I was really happy to come through today." Buoyed by the win, Williams was her entertaining self during her post-match press conference. She quoted Britney Spears ("I am a girl and not yet a woman"), threatened her friends who leaked her rap song ("My back-stabbing friends did that to me and so if I see them, I will act like a rapper, if you get my drift") and offered Novak Djokovic her undying friendship. Djokovic can complete the non-calendar Grand Slam at the French Open, a feat Williams accomplished in 2002-2003 when she won the French Open, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. Asked how significant of an achievement that would be for Djokovic, Williams said it would be "unbelievable" and added, "I don't even think Roger [Federer] did it. If Novak does it, then he can join my club and we can be best friends."