Paris • In the moments immediately following her stunningly early exit from the 2012 French Open, as her eyes welled with tears and she bemoaned how she's "been through so much in my life," Serena Williams could not possibly find anything positive to take from the experience.
How could she?
For the first and, so far, only time in her career, Williams lost her opening match at a Grand Slam tournament. Not merely that, but a woman many considered the favorite to leave with the title lost to a woman ranked 111th and with 20 first-round losses in 46 previous major championships. And, surely adding to her disappointment, Williams lost after having been two points from victory against France's Virginie Razzano.
When the 31-year-old American returns to Court Philippe Chatrier to play Anna Tatishvili on Sunday the schedule for Day 1 of the 2013 French Open also features Williams' older sister, 30th-seeded Venus, and 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer she will do so with a different understanding of what went wrong 12 months ago, and even a bit of appreciation for the disappointing result.
"Sometimes I think, 'Should I be happy that I lost last year?' You never know what can happen in your career and why things happen," said Williams, who is ranked and seeded No. 1 in singles and got a wild card Saturday to play doubles with her sister. "So it's been great for me just realizing that every match counts."
At that point she paused, perhaps hearing her own words and what they implied.
"I have always realized that," Williams continued, "but also realizing what I need to do to get better and to stay on top and to be, you know, the best tennis player that I can be."
There are, to be sure, other explanations for what she has done on the court since that defeat: good health, which her mother, Oracene Price, calls the biggest single contributor to Williams' recent success; working with a new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who directed her training session Saturday on Court Suzanne Lenglen; and what Williams sums up as "really just staying relaxed and calm" during matches.
But it certainly can't hurt to take every match seriously, including against players such as Tatishvili, who is 2-10 this year, 0-2 at the French Open for her career and never been ranked better than 50th.
"You just have to always ... be ready to play," Williams said, "and expect anything."
P Sunday, 10 a.m.
TV • Ch. 5