By Sandra Harwitt
A Grand Slam without Serena Williams in the second week, no less the final, or winning the title. Say it ain’t so.
But, alas, it’s the truth at this year’s French Open. Yes, on a day that will not be a milestone for the Williams family, both Serena and Venus Williams were sent packing in the second round on Wednesday. If there are tennis gods, they were not looking out over the best sisters to hit the modern game of tennis.
In truth, there’s only a few ways to size up Serena in action against the 35th Garbine Muguruza. Terrible comes to mind. So does horrible, horrendous, and maybe even hazardous to her own health. In a 6-2, 6-2 defeat, in which her opponent played smart and winning tennis, Serena looked as if she was a qualifier trying to keep up with the Joneses.
“I don’t think anything worked for me today, which is just nothing really worked,” said Serena, speaking of what she knew. “I don’t know anything that actually worked.”
Neither do we, Serena. Just go down the list: her serve was off, her groundstrokes were ghastly, her net play was non-existent. Basically, her mojo was missing in action. If there was any consolation it was that the dreadful situation only lasted 64-minutes.
“It was one of those days,” she sighed. “You know, you can’t be on everyday, and gosh, I hate to be off during a Grand Slam. It happens, you know, It’s not the end of the world. It is what it is.”
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Serena play this bad. And we’ve never seen her this awful before at a slam. In fact, this is there first time she’s ever fell at a major by winning only four games. Her three previous worst losses at Slams she won five games: 2008 Wimbledon – a 6-1, 6-4 final loss to Maria Sharapova, 2011 U.S. Open – a 6-2, 6-3 final loss to Sam Stosur, 2012 Australian Open – a 6-2, 6-3 round-of-16 loss to Elena Makarova.
And credit to the 20-year-old Muguruza who played Serena with all the right moves. She never faced a world No. 1 before but she kept her head down and pummeled Serena on all fronts.
But don’t despair.
Yes, Serena and sister Venus, who went down to the 56th-ranked Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia in a tougher 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 match that went two hours, 14 minutes.
But they’ll be back at Wimbledon on the green lawns of the All-England, and they much prefer to graze then slide on clay.
It wasn’t all bad news for Team USA in the women’s on Wednesday. One impressive winner was 18-year-old wildcard recipient Taylor Townsend.
Last year, Townsend was in Paris playing the juniors and picking up her 2012 ITF World Junior Champion award for being the No. 1 ranked junior in 2012. This year, the the 205th-ranked Townsend outlasted Serena and Venus to find herself in the French Open third round. This is big, huge for the American, who is playing in her first Grand Slam main draw.
Townsend earned her French Open wildcard back in the U.S.A. — the USTA and French Federation of Tennis have an agreement to give a man and a woman from each other’s nation a wildcard into the main draw. How that wildcard is distributed is up to the nation and in the U.S.A. Towsend had to compete for the honor in the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge last month. She won two of the events.
“It’s a different feeling earning the wildcard and being given one,” Townsend said. “A couple months ago I was given a wildcard in Indian Wells and I was like, Oh, yeah, this is awesome. But when I earned the wildcard and I was able to come here and say I’m here because I earned it, it’s such a different feeling. So I really came here confident. I came here excited from all the new moments and the new opportunities that were ahead of me, and I was just ready to take advantage of whatever came.”
On Wednesday, Townsend outlasted 20th seed Alize Cornet of France 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second largest court here at Roland Garros. And as can be expected it was packed full of French fans cheering for Cornet.
“I knew the crowd was going to be against me going into the match, and I didn’t know to what degree because I have never played on a stadium like that in the girl’s home country,” said Townsend, who works with former pro Zina Garrison and Kamau Murray. “But I knew for the most part that they were going to be against me.So I really just tried to focus on myself, focus on what I should be doing, trying not to really think about, you know, that every single person in that stadium basically is going against you and wants you to lose.”
Townsend has power and touch, a good sense of her self and a desire to succeed. And as many are aware, confidence is an important piece of the puzzle. That confidence was essential when she had a 5-1 lead in the third set and watched Cornet win the next three games to put Townsend at 5-4 serving for the match.
“These are the things, these are the moments, these are the things that any young professional athlete is working for,” Townsend said. “I’m really fortunate that I took advantage of it today.”