Kim Clijsters made gigantic effort just to play Roland Garros after a severe ankle injury, in the hope that she might be able to play herself into the event and win her first title here, but on a cold, windy morning on Philippe Chatrier Court she lost her rhythm and confidence and was stunned by Dutch 20-year-old Arantxa Rus 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, in the second round.
Clijsters held a 5-2 lead in the second set, but her left-handed opponent dropped the gloves and began to nail the corners with searing ground-strokes. And all of a sudden, Clijsters could not keep the ball within the court. Her serve lacked pace and direction, her forehand disappeared completely and she no longer had depth on her backhand.
While Rus flew with the wind, Clijsters looked like she had been flattened by a tornado. "I felt kind of in control, I felt like I was she was missing quite a lot in the beginning of the rallies, and I felt that I was moving her around well from side to side," said the Belgian who committed 65 unforced errors. "Then I started doubting a little bit. I think on clay is something that for me is definitely the wrong attitude to have. She obviously started building up more confidence, started playing a lot better and was really putting me on my back foot all the time. I couldn't really play my aggressive tennis anymore in that third set."
Remarkably, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion lost 11 of the next 12 games from 5-2 ahead in the second set in a performance reminiscent of her strange blow-out loss at the hands of Nadia Petrova at the 2010 Australian Open. Clijsters said her injured ankle held up fine, but she is clearly rusty having played only two matches since last March. But she badly wanted to win Roland Garros, and was willing to take her medicine. "I'm happy that I gave myself the opportunity," said Clijsters, who failed to take two match points. "It's better to try than not to try. That's kind of the attitude of a real loser. I gave it the best that I had and with my abilities that I had. So I definitely don't regret it."
For her part, the No. 114-ranked Rus put her stamp on the tour for the first time. A former junior No. 1, the young Dutchwoman showed agility and power off the ground and calm nerves in closing out the match. "This is for sure my biggest win," said Rus. "She's a real hero. I played fantastic tennis. I always liked to see her playing and to watch her matches, and it was really, really nice that I played against her."
Elswehere, seeds Petra Kvitova, Yanina Wickmayer, Agnieszka Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka, Kaia Kanepi, Roberta Vinci, Andrea Petkovic, Li Na, Maria Kirilenko and Yanina Wickmayer all won, while Sorana Cirstea upset no.27 Alexandra Dulgheru 6-2, 7-5 and American Vania King knocked Britain's Elena Baltacha out 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.