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 watched 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 journeywomen who have never been quarterfinalists, much less champions, at any Grand Slam tournament.
As Price consulted another daughter about the best way to leave the grounds, she paused for a moment, distracted by someone bounding up the stairs, two at a time. It was Flavia Pennetta, the Italian seeded 26th who beat Venus, 7-5, 6-3, and was headed toward her parents for hugs and kisses and a congratulatory call from Grandma.
For days leading to these matching upsets, the Williams clan spoke - presciently, it turns out - 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.
It was clear from listening to Pennetta and Srebotnik that they were thinking exactly what the women they beat figured.
"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 managed to reach the fourth round at a major only once before in 35 tries.
"If you win a match like that, you gain a lot, so I just took my chances."
The Williams sisters' demise meant there are no American women left at the French Open. 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 that the United States didn't put at least one woman into the fourth round at Roland Garros.
Heading into today, there was a solitary American in Paris: Robby Ginepri, the last of 10 U.S. men in the original draw after Wayne Odesnik lost to No. 3 Novak Djokovic in straight sets. Ginepri will play Florent Serra of France in the third round.