PARIS - Oracene Price, mother and coach to Venus and Serena Williams, stood near the steps to the locker room at the end of a long, rough day at the French Open.
First she watched eight-time major champion Serena lose a match that began a little after 11 a.m. Then she saw six-time major champion Venus lose a match that ended in near-darkness, shortly before 10 p.m. Both sisters were stunned in the third round yesterday by women who never have been quarterfinalists, much less champions, at any Grand Slam tournament.
As Price asked another daughter about the best way to leave the grounds, she was distracted by someone bounding up the stairs, two at a time. It was Flavia Pennetta, the 26th-seeded Italian who had beaten Venus, 7-5, 6-3, and was headed toward her parents for hugs and kisses and a congratulatory call from Grandma.
"Did you see the match? Did you see the match?" Pennetta shouted loudly enough to be heard back home in Brindisi, at the heel of Italy's boot, without the help of a cell phone. "Don't cry!"
For days leading to these matching upsets, the Williams clan spoke about how tough it can be to play against less-heralded opponents who want to make their mark by beating one sister or the other.
"They just have to learn how to do the rope-a-dope as they get older," Price said after Serena's 6-4, 6-4 loss to No. 27 Katarina Srebotnik, of Slovenia.
"Today, I woke up and, you know, it was just another opportunity. This is what you work so hard for, to be in third round where you play Serena or someone like that and you have really nothing to lose," said Srebotnik, who had reached the fourth round at a major only once in 35 tries. "If you win a match like that, you gain a lot, so I just took my chances."
Not only was there nary a Williams left in the French Open, there were no U.S. women left at all, because Bethanie Mattek was beaten, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, by No. 1 Maria Sharapova. It's the first time in at least 40 years the United States didn't have at least one woman in the fourth round.
Heading into today's matches there was just one American remaining, Robby Ginepri, who plays Florent Serra, of France, in a third-round match. *