(The Root) — Of all the possible scenarios for Serena Williams in her return to the French Open after a two-year absence, no one saw this one coming.
Certainly winning wasn't guaranteed, considering her career-long struggle to prevail on clay courts. She's not getting any younger, either, approaching her 31st birthday in September. And health could be an issue at any moment, like May 19, when she cited a back injury and withdrew from the Italian Open semifinals.
But surely Williams, ranked No. 5 in the world, would make it past her opening match against France's Virginie Razzano, ranked No. 111 in the world. After all, en route to winning 13 Grand Slam titles and competing in dozens more, Williams had never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament.
Until Tuesday, when she blew a big lead and was defeated 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
Entering the tournament this year, Williams was uncharacteristically good in matches on clay, a perfect 17-0 this year. And she was well on her way to another victory — which would have improved her record to 46-0 in Grand Slam openers — before Razzano won six straight points to take the set and then won five straight games in the third set.
"I just felt I couldn't get a ball in play," Williams said. "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."
Kind of odd and totally shocking. Former Grand Slam winner Mats Wilander called Williams' loss "unbelievable" and said Razzano's victory was "maybe the most dramatic tennis match" he had ever seen at Roland Garros. Writing for espnW, Joanne C. Gerstner detailed how the Williams sisters' aura has dimmed.
The match made a great story for 28-year-old Razzano, especially since she lost her fiancé and coach, Stephane Vidal, to brain cancer just days before the French Open last year. Razzano easily lost her first-round match and cried throughout an emotional new conference. Williams was aware of Razzano's ordeal.
"We all have stories," Williams said. "I mean, I almost died, and Venus is struggling herself. So, you know, it's life. You know, it just depends on how you deal with it. She obviously is dealing with it really well."
Williams didn't offer any excuses, saying she was fine, even though she occasionally bent forward and leaned on her racket as though stretching her lower back. Sometimes she clutched the area or whacked it with her racket. But she took the loss better than some others in the past, stating that struggles with health have changed her outlook.
"Yeah, it is disappointing — but it's life," she said. "Things could be a lot worse. I haven't had the easiest past six months. Nothing I can't deal with."
It's just something she's never dealt with before.
Deron Snyder's Loose Ball column appears regularly on The Root. Follow him on Twitter and reach him at BlackDoor Ventures, Inc.