PARIS – Serena Williams was two points away Tuesday from extending her perfect record on clay this year.
An hour later, she was out of the French Open, her earliest career loss in a Grand Slam tennis tournament.
Williams, a 13-time major singles champion and the fifth seed this year at Roland Garros, was leading by a set and 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker against Virginie Razzano of France, a player ranked 111th, 106 places below the American.
Razzano won the next six points to even the match, swept five games in a row in the final set and then held off a comeback by Williams to win, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, on her eighth match point.
“The whole match, I just didn’t play at all the way I have been practicing,” Williams said. “I don’t know how many errors I ended up making, but I haven’t been playing like that in the past.”
Williams, 30, entered the year’s second major tournament with a 17-0 record on clay in 2012, and bookmaker William Hill made her a 5-2 favorite to win her first French Open title since 2002.
Instead, she lost in the opening round for the first time in her 47 Grand Slam appearances.
Her earliest previous defeat at one of the four majors was in the second round against sister Venus at the 1998 Australian Open when Serena was 16 years old.
“I kept going for my shots, which always works for me,” Williams said. “It didn’t work out today. You know, that’s it. That’s life.”
Williams said she will stay at her apartment in Paris to prepare for a mixed-doubles match at Roland Garros with fellow American Bob Bryan.
“Hopefully I can do better, win a match in that event,” Williams said.
Second seed Maria Sharapova started the day by leading a charge into the second round, with the winner of two clay titles this season spending a mere 48 minutes in humiliating Romanian Alexandra Cadantu, 6-0, 6-0, in the first round.
The three-time Grand Slam winner offered Cadantu a rough welcome to the world elite as the No. 78 was hammered in her first meeting with a Top 10 player.
“Nothing is ever easy, because you have to face whoever is across the net,” insisted Sharapova, champion at Stuttgart and Rome. “No matter how good or bad they’re playing, you still have to win that match. That was just my goal today.”
Reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the Czech fourth seed, was equally strict with Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty as she dismissed the 332nd ranked 16-year-old with a 6-2, 6-1 scoreline.
Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki crushed Eleni Daniilidou of Greece, 6-0, 6-1, while 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy won a battle of veterans as the 31-year-old beat 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, 6-3, 6-1.
In men’s play, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer led the way for Spain with fast-track wins.
Second seed Nadal beat Italian Stefano Bolelli, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, to start his pursuit of history for a seventh title at Roland Garros. The classic grinder Ferrer, seeded sixth, dispatched Slovak Lukas Lacko, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.
Fourth seed Andy Murray struggled with his game but got past Japan’s Tatsuma Ito, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0. No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia beat American Sam Querrey, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.
Other winners Tuesday include 12th seed Nicolas Almagro and No. 13 Juan Monaco, No. 17 Richard Gasquet, No. 27 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 29 Julien Benneteau, No. 32 Florian Mayer.
No. 16 Alexandr Dolgopolov was the only seeded men’s player to lose.
On the women’s side, Tuesday’s winners included No. 16 Maria Kirilenko, No. 22 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 23 Kaia Kanepi, No. 25 Julia Goerges No. 28 Peng Shuai.