20 for 20: No. 19, Razzano d. Williams, 2012 French Open

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Is it destiny? Is it fate? You decide. (AP)

Last year, for the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine, we focused on the past. Given the tome of stories we’d told, and the trove of players and matches we’d witnessed over the past half-century, it was only natural to look back.

And it was comical to even consider doing something similar this year, for the 20th anniversary of TENNIS.com. So we’re taking the opposite approach, and instead focusing on the future. All throughout the week, we’ll be talking about what’s next for the sport, the website and much more.

It wouldn’t be an anniversary, though, without a countdown. But how do you count down events that haven’t yet happened? By predicting what will come to be.

With that said, we present TENNIS.com’s 20 for 20: Twenty matches that we’ll still be talking about twenty years from now. We’ve restricted this list to matches that have taken place in the last 10 years—or, as 20 for 20 author Steve Tignor has put it, “The Golden Decade.” (If you haven’t read our 50th Anniversary Moments or Tournament of Champions, also written by Steve, I implore you to do so.)

It has been a bountiful time for tennis since TENNIS.com’s inception, and it’s anyone’s guess what the next 20 years will bring. But we believe that each of these matches will sustain the test of time.—Ed McGrogan, Senior Editor

2012 French Open, First round
Virginie Razzano d. Serena Williams, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3

It had been 10 years since Serena Williams had won at Roland Garros, but after dominating the clay season to the tune of 17 straight victories in the spring of 2012, she came to the French as the favorite. And that, it seemed, was part of the problem. She knew this was her chance, and it made her just a little bit nervous.

But surely not nervous enough to lose a first-round match at a Grand Slam, right? Williams was also riding an even more impressive streak when she arrived in Paris that year: She was 46-0 for her career in first-round matches at the majors. When she stepped onto Court Philippe Chatrier to face 29-year-old, 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France, it was looked like a lock that she would make it 47. 

An hour and a half later, that lock appeared to be mortal. Williams had won the first set and was up 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker. That’s when the match, with no warning, veered violently off script and into the land of the surreal. Razzano won six straight points to take the second set, and seven more to start the third.

By then, the French crowd, long resigned to their player’s defeat, had awoken. When Razzano stepped to the baseline to serve for the upset at 5-3, they were leaping out of their seats with each swing, and in a full, berserk, chair-banging roar. What they saw over the next 23 minutes was worthy of that roar. In a 12-deuce, 30-point game, Williams reached break point five times, while Razzano reached match point eight times. When Razzano was docked a point for grunting loudly in the middle of a rally, it felt like a riot might ensue in Chatrier. At times Razzano could barely get through her service motion, but on her eighth match point, she skipped to the net with joy and disbelief as a Williams backhand sailed long.

A year earlier, Razzano had lost her fiancé and coach, Stephane Vidal, to a brain tumor. Now she had pulled off one of the upsets of the century.

“I think now I did my mourning,” Razzano said. “I feel good today. It took time...So is it destiny? Is it fate? I don’t know. I just wanted to win that match.”

It would be the only one that Razzano would win in Paris that year. Two days after shaking up the world, she lost to Arantxa Rus before a small crowd on a side court. 

As for Williams, she would turn that afternoon’s defeat into a victory that lasts to this day. Soon after, in search of advice and an explanation, she visited Patrick Mouratoglou at his tennis academy in Paris. The rest is tennis history.

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