PARIS -- For more than a decade, whatever the state of her health or her game, no matter the opponent or arena, Serena Williams always won first-round matches at Grand Slam tournaments.
Until Tuesday at the French Open. Until Williams came within two points of victory nine times, yet remarkably failed to close the deal against unheralded and 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France.
Until a theatrical, 23-minute final game filled with 30 points featuring ebbs and flows, high-pressure shotmaking and nerves -- and even thunderous protests from the crowd when the chair umpire docked Razzano a point. That look-away-and-you-miss-something game included five wasted break points for Williams, and seven match points that she saved, until Razzano finally converted her eighth, 3 hours and 3 minutes after they began playing.
All told, until Tuesday, Williams was 46-for-46 in openers at tennis' top venues, and those encounters tended to be routine and drama-free, befitting a woman so good that the goal -- and 13 times, the end result -- was a major championship.
Not this time. Now Williams' first-round Grand Slam record is 46-1 after as stunning a denouement as could be in a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to Razzano on the red clay at Roland Garros.
The fifth-seeded Williams, considered a pre-tournament favorite, led 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, before dropping the next 13 points in a row. Suddenly, her shots didn't always carry their usual oomph; her court coverage was ordinary.
"I've been through so much in my life, and . . . I'm not happy, by no means," said Williams, her eyes welling with tears. "I just always think things can be worse."
The 30-year-old American returned to action last year after missing about 10 months because of a series of health scares, including two foot operations and blood clots, a scary stretch she says altered her worldview.
The rowdy spectators in Court Philippe Chatrier would have been pulling for Razzano anyway, of course, because of her citizenship. But their support was particularly strong because of her recent heartbreak, well-known in France: Razzano's fiance -- Stephane Vidal, also her longtime coach -- died at age 32 of a brain tumor in May 2011.
Williams entered yesterday having won her previous 17 matches, all on clay. She withdrew before what would have been her most recent match, a semifinal at the Italian Open on May 19, citing a bad lower back, but said on Friday she was better, then refused to place blame on that injury after being beaten by Razzano.
"No, no, no. I didn't feel anything abnormal," said Williams, who counts the 2002 French Open among her 13 Grand Slam singles trophies. "I was 100 percent healthy."