PARIS - Former champion Serena Williams shocked the French Open crowd, and herself, by losing to Virginie Razzano in the first round on Tuesday, her earliest exit from a grand slam in the 47 appearances she has made in an outstanding career.
Razzano was two points from defeat in the second-set tiebreak but battled back to knock out the fifth-seeded American 4-6 6-7 6-3 in two minutes over three hours.
Williams had been the pre-tournament favourite and her shock exit overshadowed Tuesday's other events, with men's defending champion Rafa Nadal, fourth seed Andy Murray and former women's winner Francesca Schiavone among those winning easily.
Three days of watching the favourites cruise through the first round in the sunshine, had lulled the Roland Garros fans into a gentle doze.
Williams, last up on the Philippe Chatrier show court at the end of another summery day, was supposed to swiftly dispatch local heroine Razzano and complete the second-round line-up.
Razzano, though, had other ideas. She woke up the drowsy fans with her battling play and, by the time she got to her eighth match point in a 25-minute final game, the crowd were in a frenzy.
As Razzano skipped around the court in delight after her win, a dejected Williams gathered her bag and headed straight for the news conference room to try to explain what had happened.
"There is no excuse," the 13-times grand-slam singles champion said. "I just didn't play at all the way I have been practicing."
Razzano, whose fiancé died from a brain tumour last year, was struggling with cramp as she served in the extraordinary final game which went to deuce 12 times.
The Frenchwoman, ranked 111 in the world, saved five breakpoints and squandered seven match points before Williams hit a groundstroke out on the eighth.
"It's the most beautiful victory in my career," Razzano, 29, said in a courtside interview.