PARIS Venus Williams was cruising along with a ho-hum 6-3, 4-1 lead over her 35-year-old opponent at the French Open on Monday when suddenly everything went awry.
The double-faults piled up. The forehand errors did, too, and Williams lost six consecutive games to fall behind as a drizzle fell. The crowd was rooting for the underdog, applauding in unison every time 93rd-ranked Tzipora Obziler of Israel earned a point.
When the No. 8-seeded Williams would hit a winner, the sounds of approval emanated mainly from her personal guests. "Whooo!" one of her sisters kept yelling.
"I told the people in our box, 'Be quiet, so she can concentrate,"' said Williams' father and coach, Richard. "Venus is a great thinker and a great player. I wasn't nervous at all."
Eventually, six-time major champion Williams did manage to turn things back around quickly enough to pull out a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Obziler and reach the second round at Roland Garros before the rain grew heavier and washed out the latter part of the day's schedule.
"I'm glad at the end that I figured it out," Williams said.
Three-time defending men's champion Rafael Nadal was supposed to follow her on center court, but his match never began. Among those who did play Monday was No. 1 Roger Federer, who wasn't tested much in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sam Querrey of the United States.
"You never think you're going to be the guy that's going to draw him when the draw comes out," the 40th-ranked Querrey said. "But someone has to."
The day's most significant upset was produced by another American, 106th-ranked Wayne Odesnik, who beat No. 29 Guillermo Canas of Argentina 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8). The match lasted the minimum number of sets yet took 3 hours, 46 minutes.
"There's not too much to say. I think he played well," said Canas, who's lost his past six matches, all on clay. "I didn't play well at all."
The only other seeded man to exit on Day 2 was No. 17 Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open runner-up, who lost to Simone Bolelli of Italy in straight sets. Baghdatis always draws a big crowd at Roland Garros because he trains at a Paris tennis academy.
Another product of that academy is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 16-year-old Russian who won a Grand Slam match for the first time by beating Maria Emilia Salerni of Argentina 6-1, 6-1.
"I just play. I don't think about the results," said Pavlyuchenkova, who recently finished high school and is the youngest player in the tournament.
Odesnik is only 22, yet he was exhausted after his match and was checked by a doctor. He credited recent work with a sports psychologist for helping him play well in all of those tiebreakers.
"On the big points, I thought I played more aggressive and executed my shots better," said Odesnik, who was born in South Africa and moved to the United States as a toddler.
He's been trying to improve his clay-court game lately with Felix Mantilla, a Spaniard once ranked as high as 10th. Odesnik actually calls clay his favorite surface, something that's rare to hear from an American.
Querrey also doesn't mind playing on the red stuff, although he also said he basically doesn't pay too much attention to what is underfoot.
"He is a young player who is capable of playing a good match on clay," Federer said, "so I'm glad it's over."
Querrey is 6-foot-6 and relies on his big serve, one that once produced 10 consecutive aces in a match. But Federer had little trouble getting serves back, limiting Querrey to six aces and compiling 12 break points, five of which he converted.
"He just seems like he gets the racket on everything," Querrey said.
There are those, though, who wonder whether Federer is slipping a bit. Consider: The 12-time major champion already has lost seven matches this year, more than for the entire seasons of 2004, 2005 and 2006. He also has only one title so far.
"He's still got all the shots of a No. 1 player," Querrey said.
Querrey wanted to forget whom he was facing so he could relax.
"It's hard. I mean, I'm still in awe of him," the American said. "Sometimes he hits shots, you're just like, 'I've seen that on TV a bunch of times."'
Same goes for Williams, who used to be ranked No. 1 and has had stretches of brilliance, particularly at Wimbledon, but never has been all that successful at the French Open. This is the only Grand Slam tournament at which she's been past the quarterfinals only once in 2002, when she lost to sister Serena in the final.
Part of it is that clay dulls her stinging serve. Part of it is that moving around on clay is tough. Part of it is the sort of inconsistency on display in the middle of Monday's match, when she kept slumping her shoulders and hanging her head after miscues.
"Venus can play a lot better than she did today," her father said. "After she settled down, she pulled it out."
He shed no light on whatever health issues might be troubling her. Venus Williams was off the tour for about a month this year after having medical tests. She hasn't said what the tests were for and even her father said he doesn't know.
"Venus never talked to me about it, and I never asked her. The only thing I asked is, 'Are you sure it's time to come back?' And she said, 'Yes,"' he said. "Does it have an affect on her or not? This I don't know."