|Serena Williams found her range after a 6-hour-16-minute rain delay interrupted her match with Tsvetana Pironkova. (LAURENT BAHEUX/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Serena talks herself into a victory
PARIS -- Serena Williams's "Come on!" count was rising rapidly.
Her first French Open match since 2004 hardly went according to plan at the outset yesterday, and Williams kept grimacing and admonishing herself as each shaky shot helped her 91st-ranked opponent race ahead by a set and a service break.
Then, suddenly, the eight-time major champion's strokes began heeding her shouts. Williams ran off 12 of the last 13 games to beat Tsvetana Pironkova, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, in a match interrupted 6 hours 16 minutes by rain.
"I often get upset. I usually just hide it, but I guess I didn't do too well hiding it today," Williams said after improving to 30-0 in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments. "I'm always fighting, you know? I'm thinking, 'I've got to fight.' If I'm going to go down, I'm going to go down screaming and kicking."
Hers was one of only seven matches played on a wet Day 1 at Roland Garros, and the short list of women's winners included No. 1 Justine Henin -- Williams's possible quarterfinal foe -- No. 10 Dinara Safina, and unseeded Tamira Paszek. Safina's older brother, No. 22 Marat Safin, was the only seeded man who played, and the two-time major winner easily got past Fernando Vicente, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. It was the only match completed before the lengthy rain delay.
Steady drizzles throughout the afternoon prompted organizers to postpone 17 scheduled matches.
"It just kept raining," the eighth-seeded Williams said. "It didn't bother me. I think I fell asleep at some point."
Williams won the 2002 French Open, but she missed the last two editions because of injuries, and Pironkova didn't exactly provide a proper welcome: The 19-year-old broke the American's serve in the first game.
When Williams fell behind, 5-2, by dumping a forehand into the net for one of her 26 unforced errors in the first set -- eight more than in the last two sets combined -- she dropped to a knee, lowered her chin, and slowly walked to the changeover chair.
The way she was playing and gasping for air after some of the lengthier exchanges didn't look good.
Even after Williams tied the first set at 5-5, she was immediately broken back, and she kept talking to herself as raindrops fell.
With Pironkova leading, 6-5, and about to try to serve for the set a third time, Williams indicated to the chair umpire she didn't think they should keep playing. Eventually, play was halted -- even though Safin's match and others around the grounds continued for more than 20 minutes before all action stopped.
"It would be better for me if it didn't rain today, because I was in a rhythm already," Pironkova said, "and when it started to rain, I lost it."
When the players went back on court, both now wearing long sleeves, Williams made four consecutive unforced errors to drop the first set. Four more miscues by the American handed a 1-0 lead in the second set to Pironkova.
Williams, who broke back to 1-1, really began to find the range in the next game.