One day, one epic match: Razzano - Williams (1st round 2012)

 - Danielle Rossingh

Relive the match between Virginie Razzano and Serena Williams at the 1st round of Roland-Garros 2012.

Virginie Razzano & Serena Williams at Roland-Garros 2012 invites you to experience the 2020 tournament on the original dates by looking back at some of the most memorable matches from the past, round by round. Today, Tuesday 26 May, we go back to the one of the most surprising upsets in Roland-Garros history: Serena Williams’ first-round defeat to Virginie Razzano in 2012.

The context

The relatively slow, high-bouncing clay at Roland-Garros had always been Williams’ least successful hunting ground because it neutralises her powerful serve and gives opponents more time to keep the rally going. Although her lone title in Paris dated back to 2002, the then 30-year-old American arrived in the French capital in 2012 as the favourite after an unbeaten run on clay that spring.

The 111th-ranked Razzano, who had never gone beyond the fourth round before, had entered Roland-Garros with a 3-4 win-loss record that season. She ended up pulling off the biggest victory of her life a year after losing her fiance and coach, Stephane Vidal, following a nine-year battle with cancer.

Serena Williams during the first round at Roland-Garros 2012©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The match

The fifth-seeded Williams had never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam event, and during the first two sets against Razzano, it looked like that statistic wasn’t going to change anytime soon. But two points from victory, Williams suddenly completely lost her way. Having led 5-1 in the second-set tiebreak, an off-balance Williams dropped the final six points of that set before losing the first five games of the second set.

It was a meltdown of epic proportions, with a furious Williams at times appearing to be on the brink of tears. With the French crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier firmly behind their compatriot, the final game alone lasted 20 minutes as Razzano, cramping, tried to get over the line.

A backhand long on her eighth match point after three hours, three minutes handed Razzano a stunning 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory. It was Williams’ first defeat in the opening round of a major in 47 Grand Slam tournaments.   

What they said

There is no excuse,Williams told a post-match news conference. “I made so many errors today. I just didn't play at all.” She added: “I just felt I couldn't get a ball in play. When I did, I just felt like I was hitting late and, I mean, how can you hit late on a clay court?

An emotional Razzano thanked the crowd, saying: “You gave me your energy. I'm gonna have to rest. Thank you all for your support,” she said. “I knew I had it in me and I dug deep inside myself to find it,” said Razzano.

Virginie Razzano after she beats Serena Williams at Roland-Garros 2012©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Match stats

Williams hit 47 winners, but unusually, made as many errors. Razzano hit 34 winners and made 36 mistakes, but played better on the big points. The Frenchwoman won four out of 10 breakpoints, while Williams took four out of 16.

What happened next ?

Williams’ earliest exit in a Grand Slam event proved to be a turning point not only in the career of the American, but also in tennis history. Bitterly disappointed with her performance, instead of going home to the US, she stayed at her apartment in Paris and approached French coach Patrick Mouratoglou to ask if she could train at his academy nearby. That request would trigger one of the most successful player-coach relationships of all time.

Since hiring Mouratoglou as a coaching consultant, Williams has gone on an absolute tear, winning 10 more majors (including the 2013 and 2015 Roland-Garros titles), returning to the No 1 ranking and clinching an Olympic singles gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The 38-year-American is now the most successful player of the Open era with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, just one shy of all-time Grand Slam record holder Margaret Court of Australia.

Razzano, who lost to Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus in the second round in 2012, retired from tennis in 2018.

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