PARIS - Start with this statistic on a busy, blustery day at Roland Garros: Maria Sharapova hit 17 double-faults. It bears repeating: 17.
She hammered hard serves, and they sailed long. She tapped soft serves, and they landed in the bottom of the net. And she played poorly enough overall to come within two points of becoming the only No. 1-seeded woman in French Open history to lose in the first round.
Sharapova did regroup in time to barely piece together a 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 victory over Evgeniya Rodina, a Russian teen making her Grand Slam debut yesterday.
"I don't think I'd be able to get away with not playing and not serving that well with maybe a different opponent and somebody that has more experience, a top player," said Sharapova, who placed part of the blame for her woes on swirling wind that kicked up clouds of dust on court. "But I'll work on it, and it will be better."
The awful serving and generally subpar showing by someone who's supposed to be the best in the world at what she does shared top billing with the dry weather as yesterday's most noteworthy developments. After 3 days of rain - Sharapova originally was to be on court Tuesday - not a drop fell, permitting match after match after match at the clay-court major.
That meant there were other numbers of note, if not much in the way of stunning results:
* Serena Williams made it to the third round for the 33rd time in 34 career Grand Slam tournaments.
* Rafael Nadal improved to 22-0 at the French Open.
* A year after U.S. men went 0-9 in Paris, five reached the second round, and one, Wayne Odesnik, already moved into the third.
Williams found herself trailing, 5-3, in the second set against Mathilde Johansson, a French wild-card entry who began this tournament with a 2-5 career Grand Slam record. But Williams took the next four games to end it, 6-2, 7-5.
"I haven't played my best tennis, so hopefully the next round, I'll play better," said Williams, who won the French Open in 2002 and is the only past champion in the women's field.
Nadal began his bid to match Bjorn Borg's four consecutive titles from 1978 to '81 by beating qualifier Thomaz Bellucci. Rain forced them to pack up and head home Tuesday tied at 1-1, and Nadal stumbled at the start yesterday, getting broken to fall behind 2-1, then again when serving for the first set at 5-3. But he recovered nicely, winning 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.
"It was tough, no? The conditions are very, very bad," Nadal said. "The winds are terrible." *