Venus Williams won her match against Daria Kasatkina on Sunday and headed to the opening set in Roland Garros’s new secluded stadium to be seen by a raucous and divided crowd. That should have been the moment for the top-seeded American to feel extra comfortable in her surroundings. That moment never came.
The match was suspended by a downpour that left the roof open during the second set and resulted in a rain delay of three hours. The delay was timely for Kasatkina, who needed it to take advantage of Williams’s recent ankle injury. Williams, who’s never been able to successfully defend a Grand Slam title, had said in recent days she hadn’t felt comfortable on the Philippe Chatrier court that hasn’t been used before. And more moisture didn’t help.
The women’s tournament officials have used a variety of tactics to get tennis in despite the endless showers that produce the vast majority of Wimbledon’s woes. First-round matches are played on the outside court in France, which is indeed unusable after continuous rain, and then on a temporary court constructed for the U.S. Open about three weeks ago just three miles from the grounds.
Venus Williams lost the second set 3-6 and 5-7. She could not finish off the set and dropped the match, which had been scheduled for an hour.
Venus, the Williams clan sister, spoke with Kazastan during her match before playing against Kasatkina. She explained why playing on clay in Paris is more of a challenge than in an American suburb. “It’s so hard to get out and play tennis. I just feel very disconnected,” Williams said in her pre-match preamble.
“I’m so used to being out there, having no idea where to go. I feel like everyone who lives in an apartment building is kind of disconnected from the rest of the world because they’re so far away from everything,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe people who live in concrete buildings are actually kind of connected, but for me it’s been like, ‘Oh, where am I going to play tennis?’”
Williams survived similar roadblocks last year in the French Open, but found herself questioning her abilities then as well, having lost the second round in 2015 and having qualified for the tournament only after being unseeded in 2014 and 2013.
It takes a lot to make a world class athlete uncomfortable on a major stage.