PARIS (AP) -- For more than a decade, whatever the state of her health or her game, no matter the opponent or arena, Serena Williams always won first-round matches at Grand Slam tournaments.Always.Until Tuesday at the French Open. Until Williams came within two points of victory nine times, yet remarkably failed to close the deal against unheralded and 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France.Until a theatrical, 23-minute final game filled with 30 points, more than enough for an entire set, featuring ebbs and flows, high-pressure shotmaking and nerves -- and even thunderous protests from the crowd when the chair umpire docked Razzano a point. That look-away-and-you-miss-something game included five wasted break points for Williams, and seven match points that she saved, until Razzano finally converted her eighth, 3 hours and 3 minutes after they began playing.All told, until Tuesday, Williams was 46 for 46 in openers at tennis' top venues, and those encounters tended to be routine and drama-free, befitting a woman so good that the goal -- and 13 times, the end result -- was a major championship.Not this time. Now Williams' first-round Grand Slam record is 46-1 after as stunning a denouement as could be in a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to Razzano on the red clay at Roland Garros.The fifth-seeded Williams, considered by many a pre-tournament favorite, led 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, before dropping the next 13 points in a row. Suddenly, her shots didn't always carry their usual oomph; her court coverage was ordinary."I've been through so much in my life, and ... I'm not happy, by no means," said Williams, her eyes welling with tears. "I just always think things can be worse."The 30-year-old American returned to action last year after missing about 10 months because of a series of health scares, including two foot operations and blood clots, a scary stretch she says altered her worldview.The rowdy spectators in Court Philippe Chatrier would have been pulling for Razzano anyway, of course, because of her citizenship. But their support was particularly strong because of her recent heartbreak, well-known in France: Razzano's fiance -- Stephane Vidal, also her longtime coach -- died at age 32 of a brain tumor in May 2011, a little more than a week before her first-round match at last year's French Open.He had encouraged her to go ahead and enter the tournament, so she did, honoring his memory by stepping on court to play, a black ribbon pinned to her shirt. When she walked out of the locker room for what turned out to be a straight-set loss, she wore a gold chain that Vidal had given her as a Valentine's Day gift a few years earlier."Honestly, the past is the past," Razzano said Tuesday, when she dealt with leg cramps starting in the second set. "I think now I did my mourning. I feel good today. It took time."Said Williams: "I know of her story and her husband. We all have stories. I mean, I almost died, and Venus is struggling herself. So, you know, it's life. You know, it just depends on how you deal with it. She obviously is dealing with it really well."Williams' exit was by far the most newsworthy development on Day 3 at Roland Garros, where Maria Sharapova won 6-0, 6-0, and Rafael Nadal began his bid for a record seventh French Open championship with a straight-set victory.Williams entered Tuesday having won her previous 17 matches, all on clay. She withdrew before what would have been her most recent match, a semifinal at the Italian Open on May 19, citing a bad lower back, but said on Friday she was better, then refused to place blame on that injury after being beaten by Razzano."No, no, no. I didn't feel anything abnormal," said Williams, who counts the 2002 French Open among her 13 Grand Slam singles trophies. "I was 100 percent healthy."Occasionally after losing points, Williams would bend forward and lean on her racket frame, as though perhaps stretching her lower back. She also clutched at that spot and whacked her racket there after miscues.And there were plenty of those, 47 in all, 11 more than her foe. That's where Williams put the emphasis when trying to fathom how she let her big lead slip away. From 5-1 in the tiebreaker, she lost the next six points to end that set, then the first seven points of the third."I tried. I kept going for my shots, which always works for me," Williams said. "It didn't work out today."It sure seemed she'd be OK when up 5-4 in the second set and at 15-30 on Razzano's serve. The match was about 1 hours old -- only halfway through, it would turn out -- and Williams was two points from ending it. Razzano responded with an ace. At 6-5 in that set, Razzano showed real jitters, double-faulting twice in a row to again make it 15-30. Again, Williams was two points away. And again, Razzano held serve to extend the match.Then came the tiebreaker, with Williams apparently in control. At 5-2, Razzano hit a shot near the baseline that Williams let go, thinking it was out. But the chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, ruled the ball was in. Asderaki overruled a call on the next point, too, helping Razzano.Asderaki would play a key role, first warning Razzano for hindrance, then twice awarding a point to Williams because the Frenchwoman grunted loudly while exerting herself during extended exchanges. Williams found the whole thing sort of bemusing: Asderaki was the chair umpire who immediately -- with no warning -- took a point away from Williams during her loss to Sam Stosur in September's U.S. Open final."Well, you know, she's not a favorite amongst the tour," Williams said. "I just really had a flashback there."A surging Razzano led 5-0 in the third set, but Williams -- as gritty a competitor as there is in her sport -- didn't go quietly. She got within 5-3, and that's when the epic game came, as much a test of will as anything.Razzano, looking gassed, grabbed at her legs between points and double-faulted to make it 30-all. A 13-stroke point followed, and Asderaki interrupted play to make it 30-40 because of hindrance. The partisan fans jeered, whistled and banged their palms against the stadium's plastic green seats (they booed Asderaki when she walked off at match's end).That set up Williams' first break point, but she sent a return wide. Moments later, Razzano had her first match point but -- gulp! -- double-faulted. That established a pattern.Eventually, on the 12th deuce of the game, Williams dropped a forehand into the net. And on match point No. 8, she sailed a backhand long.That was it. Razzano skipped to the net for a handshake, thrilled to have beaten Williams -- and to have avoided what would have been her 21st first-round departure in 47 major tournaments.Williams' shoulders slumped. For the first time in a Grand Slam career that began at the 1998 Australian Open, when she was 16, Williams heads home after only one match.And this was one she had in her grasp."I never really feel anything slipping away or anything," Williams said. "I just felt I couldn't get a ball in play."
It’s an exciting day for me to take over the Redskins beat from Tarik El-Bashir. As a native Washingtonian, it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve wanted this job since I was a kid.
In fact, in sixth grade, after months of writing nothing but Darrell Green stories and turning them in for English homework, Miss Girard said I was no longer allowed to write about the Redskins. Who got the last laugh, Miss Girard?
Working with Tarik and Rich Tandler covering the Skins at CSN the last few years helped me learn a lot, as did my earlier work with Mr. Irrelevant, SB Nation DC and the Washingtonian. My approach to the beat will be to cover all the angles relevant for fans, and try to look ahead to what might happen and find stories that fall under the radar. In an era of information overload, readers expect more than just stats and quotes from coverage, and I know I will be able to deliver that experience.
This beat means a lot to me. I’ve watched the Redskins my whole life, I’ve cheered for them for most of it. One of the things I hate to hear is when somebody moves to the D.C. area and says ‘nobody is from here.’
I’m from here. My wife is from here. My friends are from here. Go to a Redskins game any Sunday, and thousands and thousands of people will show you, loudly, they are from here too.
Most of all, I like to have fun. I recognize not everyone gets to watch football for their job, and I want to enjoy all of it. I’m open to talking with readers, even disagreeing here and there, so feel free to reach out.
And before I forget - thank you. Thanks for reading, for arguing on Twitter, and please keep it coming.
BETHESDA, Md. – July 26, 2016 – CSN Mid-Atlantic announced today that Tarik El-Bashir has been named Capitals Insider and that J.P. Finlay will now serve as Redskins Insider. The longtime CSN contributors have significant experience covering their new assignments.
In their new roles, El-Bashir and Finlay will lead coverage of the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins, respectively, for CSN’s online, mobile and social media platforms, including CSNmidatlantic.com. The veteran reporters will also contribute regularly to the CSN’s television news, analysis and feature programming, including its live gameday coverage.
El-Bashir, who has covered the Redskins since joining CSN in 2012, served as the Capitals beat writer for The Washington Post from 2005 to 2010. He continued to provide Capitals commentary and analysis to The Post from 2010 to 2012 while covering other assignments for the newspaper. The Washington-area native also previously covered the New York Islanders as a New York Times reporter for two seasons. Overall, El-Bashir has nearly 20 years of experience covering high school, college and professional sports.
Finlay has contributed as a reporter to CSN’s multiplatform coverage of the Redskins for four years while serving as a digital media manager and producer. Prior to joining CSN, where he most recently held the position of manager of content integration, the Washington-area native covered the Redskins for SB Nation and the Washingtonian. Finlay also served as a reporter for Roll Call and SNL Financial before being named a CSN digital media producer in 2012.
CSN Mid-Atlantic, part of NBC Sports Regional Networks, is the official sports network of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens, NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards, ACC and CAA. CSN Mid-Atlantic – the leading multiplatform sports media organization serving the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia – delivers more than 400 live events per year, along with Emmy Award-winning news, analysis and entertainment programming, to more than 4.5 million homes. CSN Mid-Atlantic’s digital portfolio, highlighted by CSNmidatlantic.com, is the region’s top online source for written, video and interactive sports content. Follow CSN Mid-Atlantic on Twitter at @CSNMA.
After covering the Redskins for the past four seasons, I’m thrilled to announce that I’m returning to the hockey beat as CSN’s Capitals Insider.
In a lot of ways, this feels like a homecoming for me.
For those of you who don’t know my backstory, here’s the CliffsNotes version:
I’m a native Washingtonian who learned to play hockey at Wheaton Ice Rink, went to games at Capitals Centre and had a Scott Stevens ‘drink your milk’ poster on my bedroom door.
One of my first jobs in the business was contributing to The New York Times’ coverage of the Islanders, Rangers and Devils in the late 1990’s. Then, in 2005, I realized a dream of mine: I was named Capitals beat writer at The Washington Post and, over the next seven years, was fortunate enough to cover the highs and lows of the franchise I grew up cheering for.
I was at Verizon Center for Ovechkin’s board-rattling NHL debut and witnessed “The Goal” from the press box in Glendale, Ariz. I was at Kettler Capitals Iceplex when Boudreau was hired on Thanksgiving and covered the dueling hat tricks by Ovechkin and Crosby in 2009 playoffs. I also worked the locker room after the Caps were humbled by Halak and the Habs in 2010 and after they got swept from the playoffs by Stamkos and Co. a year later.
Although I stopped writing about the Caps in 2012 and left The Post to join CSN a little while later, I never stopped following my hometown hockey team. I didn’t miss many games, but when work or my son’s crazy travel hockey schedule didn’t allow me to watch, I almost always dialed up the highlights on my laptop in the morning.
This past April, I jumped at the opportunity to join CSN’s playoff coverage as an analyst on our post, postgame show, #CapitalsTalk. Although I hadn’t covered hockey in four years, it was like lacing up on an old, broken-in pair of skates; it just felt right. So when the chance to cover the Caps full-time was presented to me recently, I’m pretty sure I said, ‘Yes’ before my boss finished his thought.
So, here we are.
I’ve watched and covered a lot of Caps hockey over the years and now, after a scratching my NFL itch, I’m back for more. I’m pumped to join CSN’s deep and talented roster of analysts, reporters and producers. In my new role, I’ll lead our network’s coverage on the web and contribute to our coverage on the air.
My first day on the job is today.
Talk to ya’ll soon.