PARIS - There were plenty of excuses available for Kim Clijsters after a stunning collapse in the second round of the French Open against a woman ranked 114th.
In assessing her 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss to Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands yesterday, the second-seeded Clijsters could have pointed to her heavily taped right ankle, which she hurt while dancing barefoot at her cousin's wedding last month. In recounting how she managed to waste two match points and drop 11 of the last 12 games after leading 5-2 in the second set, the Belgian could have mentioned that she last entered the French Open in 2006, and had played a total of five clay-court matches anywhere since.
And in explaining her 65 unforced errors - 43 more than her opponent made - and 10 double-faults, Clijsters could have reminded everyone that she hadn't competed at all since late March because of that bum ankle and previous injuries to her right shoulder and wrist.
Instead, the winner of the last two Grand Slam titles, and four overall, pointed a finger squarely at herself and an odd crisis of confidence.
"I started doubting a little bit," said Clijsters, the French Open runner-up in 2001 and 2003. "When you start doubting yourself on any surface - but for me, definitely on clay - it's the wrong attitude to have."
Clijsters, 27, also gave credit to the 20-year-old Rus, who entered the day with a 3-4 career record in major tournaments and only twice before had been to Court Philippe Chatrier - and those visits were as a spectator.
After delivering one of the most surprising tennis results in recent years, Rus acknowledged she was nervous at the outset, perhaps because Clijsters is one of her favorite players.
"She obviously started building up more confidence, started playing a lot better, and was really kind of putting me on my back foot all the time," Clijsters said. "I couldn't really play my aggressive tennis anymore in that third set."
A similar scenario played out later in that stadium yesterday, except it was the heavy favorite, three-time major champion Maria Sharapova, who appeared to be down and out against an inexperienced kid, 17-year-old French wild-card entry Caroline Garcia, before reeling off the final 11 games to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
"Look," the seventh-seeded Sharapova said, "it could have easily gone the other way."
She said she had trouble dealing with wind that gusted at upward of 20 mph, making the balls move unexpectedly at times and occasionally kicking up clouds of loose clay into players' eyes.
Those conditions led to this bon mot from Rafael Nadal: "If you play good, seems like much less wind. If you are playing bad, seems like a hurricane."
The five-time French Open champion wasn't forced to work nearly as hard as he did in getting past John Isner in five sets, but Nadal was hardly satisfied after beating 48th-ranked Pablo Andujar of Spain, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
"I am not playing that well," said Nadal, who has spent 7 hours, 19 minutes on court. "I am not happy, but I am here."
He needed to erase eight set points after trailing 5-1 in the third against Andujar, who said he thinks Nadal is "going through perhaps a period of doubt."