Virginie Razzano, the 28-year-old Frenchwoman from Dijon, was not expected to cut the mustard against the world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki yesterday. She had played Wozniacki four times before, and lost four times. But she knew that a fifth defeat to the Dane would not seem like the end of the world, her sense of proportion and perspective having been greatly sharpened by the tragic death last month of her 32-year-old fiancé and former coach, Stéphane Vidal.
Vidal was diagnosed nine years ago with a brain tumour, but managed to lead a normal life until a sudden, fateful disintegration in his health. Even so, he withheld from Razzano the truth of how ill he was, and encouraged her to play in the French Open, which as it turned out she did just eight days after his death. "I grabbed all my courage [but] I don't have much," she tearfully told reporters in Paris, after losing in her first-round match to the Slovakian-born Australian, Jarmila Gajdosova, who had suffered personal troubles of her own with her separation from her husband, the Australian Sam Groth. "I'm very fragile," added Razzano. "I feel lonely."
Nonetheless, she appreciated the support of all the other French women in the tournament, all of whom wore black ribbons. For Razzano, there was more poignant symbolism in Vidal's gold necklace, which she had given him as a Valentine's Day gift, and which she kissed and placed on her changeover chair. "I will always wear it," she said. "Of course, I can't play with it, because it's a very heavy chain. But it's comforting. It's nice for me to feel that he's with me."
Razzano had planned her schedule months earlier with Vidal. The plan was for her to play in Paris, and then to compete in the Ageon Classic in Birmingham, after which she would return to France to spend time with him, before heading for Wimbledon. In his honour she has kept rigidly to that schedule, but after being beaten comfortably by Gajdosova at Roland Garros, the omens for Wimbledon didn't seem especially propitious when she lost on grass in the opening round in Birmingham. However, the Court Two meeting with Wozniacki was earned with a doughty first-round 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 defeat of Sania Mirza, the Indian wife of Pakistan's former cricket captain Shoaib Malik. Mirza is currently ranked 60th in the world, 36 places above Razzano.
As for Wozniacki, the overwhelming favourite to progress yesterday, the 20-year-old top seed has made no secret of her desire to spike the guns of those who believe that a woman with no Grand Slam titles in her locker has no place as the world No 1, an ambition shared by her male golfing counterpart Luke Donald. As Donald yearns to win a major, any major, so Wozniacki needs a Grand Slam, although she has never before gone beyond the fourth round here. Indeed, this is the only Grand Slam tournament in which she has never reached at least the quarter-final.
If she does go all the way to the end of next week, she will become the first Danish player to emulate the grand old man of tennis in Denmark, Kurt Nielsen, who died earlier this month, aged 80. Nielsen remains the only Dane to have reached a Wimbledon singles final, which he did twice, in 1953 and 1955, but lost both times, against Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert. He also won the mixed doubles at the US Open in 1957, with a pretty handy partner in Althea Gibson, a five-times Grand Slam singles champion.