Detail of Pont Alexandre

Detail of Pont Alexandre

Isn’t Zakopalova a wonderful name?

Sounds like lallapalooza, and that’s what Zakopalova presented us with on the third day of the French Open — a lallapalooza of a match that almost swept Serena the Great out of Paris before she’d unpacked her luggage. I’m talking about Klara Zakopalova, a mite out of Prague ranked No. 100 who could probably fit into one of Ms. Williams’ handbags. Appropriately they collided on the Suzanne Lenglen Court, named for the unbeatable French diva of the 1920s, who really turned women on to tennis.

Suzanne would have loved this enthralling 3-set tussle as much as the 8000 onlookers in her playground. Fiercely battling from the baseline, lengthening points with dashing saves, they often brought admiring gasps from the bundled-up witnesses late in a day that featured rain and wind as well as touches of March, May, July and November.


This was big for Sister Serena, immersed in a personal futility record 4 straight losses. She was 37-0 in majors first rounders, but the pesky 110 pound Zakopalova had defeated her recently, and Serena’s knees ached. Still, her power seemed enough as she won the first set, 6-3. However, Klara jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second, and that’s when the fireworks began as they stepped onto a roller coaster. Serena muscled her way through 5 straight games even though Klara resisted gamely, and it appeared that the champion of 2002 would sweep the table.

At 3-5 Klara seemed KO’d. Instead she served her way through the shoals of one of the most extraordinary games in the tourney’s annals — blotting 5 match points in the 8 wild deuce episode. With a forehand winner she rescued the 5th match point, and then Klara broke to 5-5.

Serena looked as you would expect — stunned. She, the tight-fisted holder of 10 major titles had let victory slip through her right hand: 1 match point per finger. Unable to recover, she lost the set in a tie-breaker, However, she pulled herself together to lead 5-2 in the 3rd.

But Zakopalova wasn’t throuh with her, serving to 3-5 through 3 more match points! Of course she took Serena’s serve, but was unable to hold for a last time. A searing backhand return lifted Serena to her 9th match point. Whereupon, Klara missed a last forehand, and Serena will probably say for the rest of her life. “The 9th time never fails.”

She was released from Zakopalova’s 2-hour-25 minute lallapalooza, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4.

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