Coming into this year's French Open, Serena Williams had captured 17 consecutive victories on the red clay, blue clay, and green hard-tru surfaces.
With titles in Charleston and Madrid, Williams' resolve and tenacity that has characterized her entire career as a player was more than evident. Following an extremely challenging 2011 season which was severely abridged by a battle with a pulmonary embolism, Serena appeared more than ready to pose as a favorite to shed the woes of the past and relish in the glory of another Grand Slam.
Virginie Razzano of France had other plans. As did Serena's patience.
After winning the first set and leading 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, the complexity and rhythm of the match suddenly changed, an inexplicable metamorphosis. But a transformation that gradually saw the unraveling of Williams' game.
Throughout the duration of the first two sets, Serena seemed to be unusually satisfied with the way she was playing despite the fact that she held firm control of the match. Her discomfort was evident in her negative facial expressions and inability to maintain a facade of confidence and relaxation—the stress was abundantly clear.
This accumulation of stress, dissatisfaction all materialized into impatience that would prove catastrophic.
Known for her offensive nature, Serena's aggression level escalated to a point where she was in essence playing hit or miss tennis—arbitrary ball-striking with no game plan. There was no discernible intention to craft points through the extension of rallies in which she waited for her opportunities rather than attempting to create opportunities that were more unrealistic visions of extraordinary shot making than anything else.
The gradation of unbelievably ineffective aggression runs contrary to a surface that virtually begs for the grind. Serena Williams was playing hard/grass court tennis on a clay court which doesn't work for two main reasons.
First, the ability of her opponents to make her work and put more balls into the court increases substantially on clay courts. The defensive mechanisms of Virginie Razzano were amplified on the slower clay courts and led Serena into going for much more than was feasible.
In supplement, Serena's ability to hit through opponents has been well-documented over the last 15 years. But at the one major where her success has fallen short of expectation, this propensity to hit other players off the court is significantly decreased, again, due to the fact that clay courts really absorb and dramatically cut down the pace of shots that would be faster on grass or hard courts.
Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle brilliantly stated that "endurance is patience concentrated."
This undoubtedly true concept can be accurately described as the reason Serena fell—her patience spiraled down into a situation where the collapse of any semblance of a game plan inflicted her will and resolve to amend the deep hole she dug for herself.
While much credit must be given to Razzano, this was an opponent Williams clearly should have beaten and now Serena is only left to ponder what could have been career defining success in the Paris fortnight.
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