World number 1 Victoria Azarenka, sans shorts, sans hoodie, sans earphones, sans confidence--walked through the tunnel today at Roland Garros, and it was as though the Body Snatchers had sneaked into her hotel the night before, and she had become one of the Pod People. Opponent Alberta Brianti picked up on it, too, and took her very best clay game (nothing to sneeze at, by the way) to Azarenka.
Azarenka was one-down from the very beginning, making repeated errors, looking lost on the court, and also having to cope with some impressive Italian clay court finesse. Somehow, a tiebreak ensued, and though Azarenka saved two set points, Brianti prevailed in the first set. Then, just like that, the Italian was up 4-0 in the second, with two break points against Azarenka to put her up 5-0.
This was when reality finally clicked for the world number 1: She was about to go out in straight sets in the first round of the French Open. "Bad days happen," she would say later of her 60 unforced errors. In the meantime, she won the second set 6-4, and the final set 6-2. Azarenka says that her aching shoulder is much better, and has more or less shrugged off the whole round-one affair as unfortunate. But from the very beginning--before play even commenced--it just didn't look like Azarenka.
Whoever took Vika--please bring her back, and don't forget to drop off her accessories.
Azarenka wasn't the only player who was out of sorts. We might write off Mona Barthel's poor Strasbourg performance as "bad days happen," but the German was pretty much blown away today by Lauren Davis in the first round in Paris, and--without all respect to Davis, who played well--it now seems more than reasonable to say that something is wrong with Barthel. But what?
12th seed Sabine Lisicki made an exit, too, losing in straight sets to Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Mattek-Sands will now play countrywoman Sloane Stephens, who had a very nice win over Ekaterina Makarova. Defending champion Li Na had an easy win over Sorana Cirstea, and Agnieszka Radwanska pretty much ran over Bojana Jovanovski, who won just one game.
In the "sorry to see them go so soon" catergory (besides Barthel) are: Galina Voskoboeva, Simona Halep, Roberta Vinci, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, and Iveta Benesova. Add Vera Zvonareva to that list--she withdrew today because of her right shoulder injury.
So far, every player from the USA has advanced to the second round; Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton have not played yet.