PARIS — There were plenty of excuses available for Kim Clijsters after a stunning collapse in the second round of the French Open against a woman ranked 114th.
In assessing her 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss to Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands on Thursday, the second-seeded Clijsters could have pointed to her heavily taped right ankle, which she hurt while dancing barefoot at her cousin’s wedding last month.
In recounting how she managed to waste two match points and drop 11 of the last 12 games after leading 5-2 in the second set, the Belgian could have mentioned that she last entered the French Open in 2006, and had played a total of five clay-court matches anywhere since.
And in explaining her 65 unforced errors — 43 more than her opponent made — and 10 double-faults, Clijsters could have reminded everyone that she hadn’t competed at all since late March because of that bum ankle and previous injuries to her right shoulder and wrist.
Instead, the winner of the last two Grand Slam titles, and four overall, pointed a finger squarely at herself and an odd crisis of confidence.
“I started doubting a little bit,” said Clijsters, the French Open runner-up in 2001 and 2003. “When you start doubting yourself on any surface — but for me, definitely on clay — it’s the wrong attitude to have.”
The 27-year-old Clijsters also gave credit to the 20-year-old Rus, who entered the day with a 3-4 career record in major tournaments and only twice before had been to Court Philippe Chatrier — and those visits were as a spectator.
After delivering one of the most surprising tennis results in recent years, Rus acknowledged she was nervous at the outset, perhaps because Clijsters is one of her favorite players, someone she used to cheer for when watching on TV.
“She obviously started building up more confidence, started playing a lot better, and was really kind of putting me on my back foot all the time,” Clijsters said. “I couldn’t really play my aggressive tennis anymore in that third set.”
A similar scenario played out later in that stadium Thursday, except it was the heavy favorite, three-time major champion Maria Sharapova, who appeared to be down and out against an inexperienced kid, 17-year-old French wild-card entry Caroline Garcia, before reeling off the final 11 games to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
“Look,” the seventh-seeded Sharapova said, “it could have easily gone the other way.”
She said she had trouble dealing with wind that gusted at upward of 20 mph, making the balls move unexpectedly at times and occasionally kicking up clouds of loose clay into players’ eyes.
Those conditions led to this bon mot from Rafael Nadal: “If you play good, seems like much less wind. If you are playing bad, seems like a hurricane.”
The five-time French Open champion wasn’t forced to work nearly as hard as he did in getting past John Isner in five sets Tuesday, but Nadal was hardly satisfied after beating 48th-ranked Pablo Andujar of Spain 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (4).
“I am not playing that well,” said Nadal, who has spent 7 hours, 19 minutes on court. “I am not happy, but I am here.”
He needed to erase eight set points after trailing 5-1 in the third against Andujar, who said he thinks Nadal is “going through perhaps a period of doubt.”
Also reaching the third round were past Grand Slam finalists Robin Soderling and Andy Murray, along with No. 10 Mardy Fish, the last U.S. man in the field. Six seeded men lost: No. 8 Jurgen Melzer of Austria, No. 20 Florian Mayer of Germany, No. 24 Sam Querrey of the U.S., No. 27 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, No. 28 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia and No. 32 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.
Davydenko, a French Open semifinalist in 2005 and 2007, was beaten in five sets by Antonio Veic of Croatia, a qualifier ranked 227th whose reward is a third-round match against Nadal.
Garcia was the youngest and, at 188th, lowest-ranked woman left, and was playing in only the second tour-level event of her nascent career.
Many expect great things from her, including Murray, who after beating Simone Bolelli 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-5, took to Twitter and wrote, “Girl sharapova is playing is going to be No.1 in world one day caroline garcia, what a player u heard it here 1st.”
Sharapova’s take? “She’s on her way up, definitely.”
Actually, Garcia looked like the poised veteran early, taking the first set and a 4-1 lead in the second, buoyed by a partisan crowd that roared with approval after her 17 groundstroke winners, seven more than Sharapova accumulated.
But during a changeover, spectators raised a ruckus by doing the wave, and Garcia acknowledged later that flustered her a bit.
“I had many things going in my head, because I was leading. I was playing well. She was not really in the court,” said Garcia, who now will play in the junior tournament. “And then she reacted just like a champion, because she is a great champion.”
The French Open is the one major title Sharapova doesn’t own, but she and Svetlana Kuznetsova are the only women with multiple Grand Slam trophies who are still around. That’s because the Williams sisters didn’t enter the French Open — and because Clijsters already is unexpectedly headed home.
Howard Fendrich can be reached at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich