- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

PARIS | Serena Williams entered Tuesday with a 37-0 record in the first round at Grand Slam tournaments.

She also began the day with a four-match losing streak, the longest of her career.

Williams focused on the second of those statistics, the more discouraging one. And while she never appeared truly in danger of losing to 100th-ranked Klara Zakopalova, there were times when it seemed Williams simply could not wrap things up.

Twice, Williams served for the match and was broken. Eight times, Williams was a single point from victory and couldn’t complete the task. Finally, on match point No. 9, Zakopalova pushed a forehand wide to seal Williams’ 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory, leaving the 10-time Grand Slam champion screaming and hopping at the baseline in a mix of joy and relief.

“I was just desperate for a win, and I think it pretty much showed in my game,” the second-seeded Williams said.

Whether it was the result of rust or a lingering knee injury or the swirling wind that carried debris from the stands onto the court, Williams’ mistakes kept coming. She finished with the same number of unforced errors as winners (35), wound up wasting 13 of 20 break points and put only 55 percent of her first serves in play.

Williams called her performance “horrendous” and said, “I just played junior tennis - or even worse.”

All in all, it was a 2 1/2-hour struggle for the 2002 French Open champion. Afterward, she went on court with older sister Venus to play doubles, a match suspended in the third set at about 9:45 p.m. because of darkness.

It was an anticlimactic end to a Day 3 that brought the first rain of the tournament, a two-hour-plus delay that interrupted easy victories for No. 5 Jelena Jankovic and No. 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The only newsworthy upsets might not necessarily count as significant surprises, actually, given that they involved U.S. men losing to Argentines: No. 15 James Blake lost to qualifier Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-2, and No. 22 Mardy Fish was beaten by Maximo Gonzalez 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Bobby Reynolds lost in straight sets to No. 11 Gael Monfils of France, making U.S. men 2-7 in the first round. Tuesday’s winners included No. 4 Novak Djokovic - whose opponent, Nicolas Lapentti, quit after hurting his ankle - No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Ferrero needed five sets to beat 2006 semifinalist Ivan Ljubicic, and while that and other matches might have interested fans, nothing going on around Roland Garros came close to the potential shock value of a loss by Williams.

Set aside, for a moment, that Zakopalova beat Williams on clay last month at Marbella, Spain, part of the American’s recent skid on the slow surface. The Czech player is 7-24 at Grand Slam tournaments.

“I feel very disappointed,” Zakopalova said. “She’s Serena.”

But she didn’t play like Serena for long stretches Tuesday, including when she fell behind 3-0 in the second set. Right after that, though, Williams won five consecutive games - including 10 points in a row - to go ahead 5-3.

Seemingly back in control, Williams slipped again into sloppy play.

“It just happens,” she said. “It shouldn’t happen at my stage in my career, but it did.”

As the match went on, the crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen was backing the underdog, chanting “Kla-ra!” and giving Williams a hard time when she would question calls.

“They don’t really pull for me a lot here,” Williams said. “That’s fine.”

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