— No way around it, Serena Williams suffered a painful and costly loss in the quarterfinals of the French Open, falling to Svetlana Kuznetsova in a back-and-forth match, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5.
Williams, seeded second, had won 18 consecutive Grand Slam matches, and was bidding for her 11th major championship. But gone is the winning streak, a chance at her second French Open title, her first coming in 2002, and most importantly, gone is her bid for a calendar Grand Slam.
Williams says she has no one but herself to blame. She commented that, “honestly, I think I lost because of me, and not because of anything she did.''
She admitted to growing tight in the third set, feeling nerves, and basically giving the match to Kuznetsova, who has a history of not coming up big in big spots. Williams’ past has been the exact opposite, with her gutting out some huge wins at the majors. That’s what makes the result of this encounter all the more surprising as well as ironic.
Williams had a set point in the first set, but Kuznetsova erased it with an overhand. After that the Russian went on a a run where she won nine of 10 points to take the lead.
Then the momentum shifted. Williams rallied from three points from defeat to win the second set, and led 3-1 in the third. When Williams has her back against the wall, she just seems to play bigger. She seems to play a litter better, and hit even a little harder, and increase her accuracy. She broke from the norm against Kuznetsova, and could pull none of that off.
Kuznetsova mounted her comeback, and broke in the final game when Williams, on her 39th unforced error of the match, pushed a backhand wide. So while Williams may feel she lost the match on her own, but there’s no denying that credit has to be given to Kuznetsova. The 2004 U.S. Open champion looked shaken after Williams stormed back in the second set. Kuznetsova regrouped, and forgot about her history of letting big matches go. Mentally she fired up again, and became sturdy enough to win the deciding set.
The loss of the shot at a calendar Grand Slam will not go over well with Williams, especially since she lost in Paris late in the tournament. Williams has always been known to play better as the majors go on. She was moving better this week than last week. She was playing better with each match, and had only lost to Kuznetsova once in her career in six matches.
Even though the rankings show otherwise, Williams has come out and said she is the No. 1 player in the world. So that is why many expected her to battle through the late stages of the third set, and find a way to best Kuznetsova.
Williams is such a fighter, and when her back is against the wall, she usually plays some of her best tennis. That’s what’s so tough about playing against her, she always fighting. But where was that fight when needed most against Kuznetsova?
In the third set, once Williams got to being up 3-2, 40–love on her serve, almost all would have predicated her to win. But she let Kuznetsova back into the match, and that is so uncharacteristic of Williams. But that happens. It happens to all players. It just rarely happens to Williams, especially with the stakes being so high.
The chances of Williams winning a second French Open grew so much greater once Justine Henin retired. So 2009 at Roland Garros had to carry high hopes for the American. But perhaps those hopes should have been tempered a bit by her going 0-3 in the three matches she had on clay at Marbella, Rome, and Madrid leading up to Paris.
Williams looks as hungry as ever, there’s little question about that. This makes the melt down at the end against Kuznetsova all the more puzzling. This was a very winnable match for her. She has to be extremely disappointed given all that was on the line.
What happened with Williams is mental. It’s mental with every player. Each player let the other back into the match, proving the mind is really the determining factor so often in close matches. It comes down to which player can control her nerves better.
Where does the loss to Kuznetsova leave Williams mentally as she heads to Wimbledon, and for the rest of the year? I believe she’ll be hungrier from here on out. She wants to win more than 10 majors. She’s made no secret of that.
Grass is a better surface for Williams than is clay. She moves better on the lawns. She expected more on the dirt, now she’ll want more the grass.